When approached by a police officer, our first instinct is often to help. Even if we are accused of something, we may assume that we would be better off explaining our side of the story and assuaging the officer’s suspicions.
Unfortunately, many times, talking to the police can make the situation more serious for you. This can be the case when you are a mere bystander or witness, but it is especially true when the police suspect you may have committed a crime.
The truth is, talking to the police can sometimes – if not always – can get you into trouble.
Among the foremost experts, Virginia’s Regent Law School professor James Duane famously argued in his book, “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent,” that people should never speak to the police under any circumstances whatsoever. Here are a few of his main points:
Talking to the police cannot help you
It may seem counter-intuitive that talking to the police not only will not but cannot help you. However, according to Professor Duane, the evidence is clear. People are virtually never successful at talking their way out of an arrest.
Moreover, talking to the police could lead you to admit guilt, even when you are not guilty. This does happen, unfortunately, altogether too frequently.
Finally, if you admit guilt to the police, you get nothing in return. If you wait to admit guilt until later in the process, you may get something in exchange.
Even a small mistake could be viewed as a lie – and it is easy to make mistakes
People like to talk in stressful situations. Even innocent people who are trying to tell the truth may make mistakes. These mistakes could be viewed as lies and used against you in court.
Also, even truthful responses can sometimes give the police something to use to help convict you. For example, admitting to having a negative relationship with a crime victim could help the state prosecute you.
And, even if you’re completely innocent and only tell the truth, you are likely to have to tell your story several times, including in court. The chances are very high that you will miss or misstate small details. This can be used to make you appear to be deceptive.
It is important to understand that many law enforcement officer do not record their interviews – or even write down exactly what you said, word for word. If the officer doesn’t remember your statement accurately, it could cost you at trial. It would be your word against the officer’s.
The police are not the judge, jury or prosecutor
Many people think the police will help them if they are honest. Sometimes, officers even imply this. However, only prosecutors have the authority to negotiate plea agreements or other deals.
Even if you may be guilty, confessing to the police could cost you
It’s entirely possible that the police do not have enough evidence to convict you without your confession. They may have booked you on a much more serious offense than the prosecutor would ultimately allow. There may be circumstances in your case that justify a lesser charge or even exonerate you. Confessing to the police locks in the often too-harsh charges the police may have preferred.
Even if you are the victim of the crime, you could still be charged with something
You may assume that Professor Duane meant only that criminal suspects have nothing to gain from talking to police. He actually meant that no one should speak to the police, ever – and that includes crime victims. If you invite the police into your life, they may discover evidence of a completely separate crime (often drug-related). If they do, they may arrest you.
These are all good reasons to exercise your right to remain silent and to ask for a lawyer. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights at every step.