4 THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE TALKING TO THE POLICE
How to protect your rights
It’s human nature to want to defend ourselves when we feel accused of something. And oftentimes, it comes with the purest of intentions: even a completely innocent person may start to try to explain themselves when they become the subject of scrutiny or suspicion.
This is truer than ever when it comes to criminal investigations, and the police are well aware of it. In fact, in the event that they interrogate you, they are thoroughly and systematically trained to use your confusion and cluelessness against you.
We at the Tatum Legal Group place the highest priority on making sure our clients are treated with respect, especially in the throes of a criminal investigation. We’ve compiled a list of things to know that are absolutely essential to protecting yourself if you are ever asked by police to carry on a conversation.
The cops have a right to lie to you--and have been trained to do so for decades.
The Reid Technique is a well-known “formula of psychological manipulation” that has been taught and implemented at police training academies all over the world, and particularly in North America, for the last 70 years.
This trusted and widely respected interrogation technique was developed in the 1950s and named after its inventor. The official Reid website endorses one interrogation strategy that they refer to as the “Bait question”:
“It is non-accusatory in nature but at the same time presents to the subject a...probability of...some evidence implicating him in the crime.”
Notice here that the police want you to believe they’ve already found you guilty (whether or not that’s actually true). They tend to figure that if you already feel you’ve been “caught red-handed”, you’ll be more likely to give up information since the police are claiming to already “know” you did certain things.
That’s the “bait” part of their questioning. It’s also an incredibly predatory and emotionally abusive way to interact with someone, and sometimes it leads to false confessions.
On top of that, the police may tell you that you’re only being investigated as a witness--although if your first contact with the police is their phone call to you, then it’s way more likely you are actually a criminal suspect. It’s also not unheard of for suspects to be arrested after arriving at the station for questioning. This depends entirely on how much evidence they’ve already quietly gathered against you--something you’ll probably never find out.
2. You have the right to an attorney, and you need one immediately.
While the progression of a criminal case through the justice system is a long one, a set of questions for each suspect is almost always the first step. Even a simple chat over the phone with a seemingly harmless and “friendly” investigator can incriminate you without you ever knowing it.
As one Florida criminal defense attorney explains, verbally placing yourself at the scene of the crime is one major way you could make things worse for yourself, and is far easier to do than you might think. Even a simple offhand comment could confirm or suggest what the investigator is ultimately looking for, which is the possibility of your guilt:
“In every single criminal case, the prosecution is required to prove that you were at the scene of the crime -- and you just did their job for them before they even officially charged you with any crime.”
-Attorney Adam Rossen, Rossen Law Firm
Your attorney is there not only to navigate the complex questioning tactics of the investigators but also to gain “insider access” to all the facts of the case so that you can move forward in a thoroughly informed way. Without having all the facts pertaining to your case, you cannot truly know which moves to make (or avoid) in the coming days after you’re contacted by the police.
3. There is help available to you, even if you think you can’t afford an attorney.
Sometimes, just hearing the phrase “you need a lawyer” is enough to trigger stress. It’s not an expense that most people budget for before the need arises, and it’s no secret that legal representation often comes with a high price tag. But it doesn’t always have to.
Run a Google search for “public defender’s office” and see what comes up for your area or county. If you live in an area that doesn’t have one, try reaching out to a legal services office in your state, such as the Georgia legal services program.
Even if you cannot immediately find the exact phone number or website that you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to call around and ask questions. Ask where you can find low- or no-cost legal representation and keep a running list of notes. Ask each person you speak with for their name, and keep track of their phone numbers and organizations.
You can also reach out to your local bar association and seek out some attorneys who may actually be in need of the chance to take on your case. According to the American Bar Association, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.”
4.Resisting the temptation to explain or defend yourself to the police could save you jail time.
Unfortunately, self-incriminating statements are something that our clients fall victim to all the time. While the urge to start talking to police upon their request can be strong--and the intention to cooperate, so as not to raise suspicion, can be tempting--try to remember that your words are extremely unlikely to actually improve your status as a criminal suspect. While your words can easily be twisted and manipulated to imply your guilt, they’re almost never enough to completely rule you out as a criminal suspect--so you’re better off not even trying until your lawyer is present.
Investigators have a one-track-mind when it comes to doing their jobs, and that track typically must lead to an arrest. Whether or not you are actually guilty may matter less to them than closing their case, as long as they have enough evidence against you to help a judge overcome the grey area of “reasonable doubt.” That’s a treacherous and winding road that you simply don’t want to end up on.
The Tatum Legal Group will show up for you, bravely and reliably, each step of the way through the process of a criminal investigation. We seek to protect our clients from biased, unfair, or unreasonable treatment by the justice system. We believe that every human being deserves the peace of mind that comes with having a fearless guide during their most stressful times.
If you ever find yourself involved with a criminal investigation, politely decline to speak with police until your attorney is present. Then, give us a call right away and ask for a consultation.