Yo Matt: The police contacted me, wanting me to come in and “give them my story” in connection with a case they’re investigating. Is that a smart idea if I want to clear my name?
Let me answer your question in the way I best know how to get through to you thick-headed kids these days, with a meme:
#confused #waitwhat #bruuuuuuuuuuuh #NAHBRUH #yabigdummy
C’mon fam. That’s never not never a good idea. Here’s why:
STORY TIME: Remember at the last family cookout you accused Uncle Pooty Poot of eating the last of the pork chops — and you wouldn’t have truly known whether it was him or your thieving cousin Little Poot — until he said, “C’mon now, niece! You know I ain’t eat them chops!” and you saw the meat stuck in his teeth, and smelled the Lawry’s seasoning salt on his breath? If he hadn’t tried to say something in his defense, you’d probably never have been able to PROVE he ate them. And EVEN IF what he actually ate was a chicken leg quarter, your suspicion that he’s the culprit would be much stronger. Well, that sort of thing happens all too often when people try and talk to the police in their defense. Cats think they’re helping themselves and they’re actually inadvertently giving law enforcement confirmation of their suspicions or saying something that gives law enforcement more leads to investigate. It can also potentially hurt you by giving the State an early glimpse into your defenses and trial strategy down the road. Much of this concern is lessened if you choose to speak to law enforcement with an attorney present, but even then, really consider whether it’s in your best interest (on which your attorney will counsel you).
- Law enforcement is trying to BUILD a case, not help you beat one.
It goes without saying, but law enforcement’s goal is to investigate a case they believe they have (or can find) evidence to ultimately prove beyond a reasonable doubt. That investigation usually starts with the responding officers and ends after a detective works the case up. It’s important to recognize this, because anything you say at ANY time in connection with the case may be potentially be used against you. If you’ve lost as many Sundays to those infernally addictive Law & Order marathons as I have, you’ve likely seen suspects Mirandized (aka “read their rights”) as they’re arrested.
What you don’t often see, or have explained, in crime dramas is the fact that the statements you make, even when detained (i.e. not free to leave, but not quite under arrest), may be used against you, provided you’re not being interrogated. A good example of this is when an officer asks you whether you’ve been drinking — and how many drinks you’ve had if you admit to having consumed alcohol — after they pull you over and before the standardized field sobriety tests and ultimate arrest. There’s a lot of scholarship regarding when a detention ends and begins and when it transitions to arrest — triggering Miranda warnings being given — but for our purposes, all you have to remember is…
SHUT THE FUCK UP!
I know one lawyer who’s gone so far as to create a business card with a statement inside intended to affirmatively invoke his client’s right to remain silent in the event they’re arrested. That brilliant idea further affirms the point that protecting your rights and potentially staying out of jail or prison begins the moment you make contact with law enforcement.
- The burden of proving a case ALWAYS falls on the State and NEVER shifts to you. The State has to PROVE you’re guilty; you don’t have to prove ANYTHING, including your innocence.
Juries hear me repeat some version of the words in the heading to this section week in, and week out. And if I said it 5,000 times more in my career as a criminal defense lawyer, it still wouldn’t be enough. You, as the accused — and before then, as the “suspected” — have no duty whatsoever to prove you didn’t commit the crime. The duty to prove you did, beyond a reasonable doubt, falls squarely and solely on the State (or the Commonwealth, the parish, the whatever-else-you-call-your-respective-political-subdivision, it’s all the “‘gubbment”). As such, you only stand to potentially hurt yourself by talking to law enforcement in connection with a case they’re investigating if you’re suspected of having committed the crime.
This is in no way intended to provide legal advice or counsel you on what’s best in your situation (if that’s where you currently find yourself). It is also not intended to attempt to dissuade you from talking to law enforcement at all (i.e. if they ain’t saying YOU did it). Most people want to live in safe communities, and ordinary citizens saying what they’ve witnessed often secures that very safety. BUT we’re also protected by our Constitution, especially when accused of a crime; and the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution says you ain’t gotta say nan word in your defense in trial, and the jury can’t consider the fact you kept silent. So, embrace that idea at the very beginning of the process and follow the wise words of the Bard, Big Willie Shakespeare and…
SHUTTETH THE FUCK UPPETH!