"Any lawyer worth his salt will tell a suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances." — Justice Robert Jackson.
Hypothetical: Let's say you live on Whidbey Island. Imagine that a cop has stopped you on the sidewalk during your morning walk. He states that you are not a suspect, and you did not do anything wrong. Thus, you will cause yourself no harm by talking with him, right?
While this may be the case, speaking with a police officer will never be in your best interest. Nervousness, intimidation, or even guilt over something small or unrelated can turn a casual conversation with a cop into you in handcuffs in the back of an Island County Sheriff's cruiser. Moral of the story, there's rarely a good enough reason for you risk talking to the police. Not convinced yet? Here are a few more reasons why getting chatty with the cops is a bad idea.
Do you honestly know all of the different ways you can incriminate yourself? The law can be extremely confusing and even the most educated people can get it wrong. Did you know that your rights are different depending on whether you are questioned, detained, or arrested? If a cop stops you on the street, are you just being questioned? Or are you actually detained? Are you free to walk away even if the cop is blocking your path?
The State of Washington has hundreds of criminal statutes on the books, many of which involve conduct that nobody would imagine could be a crime. For example, did you know that it is a crime in Washington to walk around in public if you have the common cold? In addition, many of these criminal laws often incorporate additional agency regulations that also carry criminal penalties. In a recent report, the Library of Congress — i.e. the library of those who help create our country's laws — stated that even they are unable to give an exact count of how many criminal laws are currently on the books. When lawmakers don't even know how many laws exist, how are citizens expected to follow them?
Given the sheer number of laws that exist, and how poorly most of the laws are written, it can be difficult for anyone to know whether they are breaking the law or not. If there are hundreds of laws on the books, that is far too many ways to incriminate yourself! So keep your mouth shut!
Police are highly trained in the art of manipulation. Often, cops can seem casual, friendly, and even joke around with you. After all, Island County cops are upstanding people, right? Before you realize it you may feel as if you are talking to an old friend who is just trying to help you out of a sticky situation. Here are a few examples of things that a cop might tell you to get you to talk:
All of these are tactics used to get information from you. A police officer is not your friend, your counselor, or your advocate, and they certainly don't have your best interest at heart. They will use language to throw you off balance, intimidate, and confuse you. Remember, it is perfectly legal for the police to flat out lie to get you to admit to something. Say nothing! Any information that you give the police will only help them prove their case against you.
It is human nature to try to explain yourself or provide unnecessary details, especially when you are nervous. Guilty or innocent, a casual conversation with a cop can quickly escalate into an arrest. It is important to understand that police officers are speaking with you to collect information about criminal activity. If the police are questioning you, they more than like already consider you a suspect in some way.
If you are innocent you may think that you have nothing to fear, so why not explain the situation? A statement that you may think is harmless could make you appear guilty in the eyes of the officer who already suspects you. Even if you do not admit that you've committed a crime, you could easily give the police information that could be used to help prosecute you. For example, you might make a mistakes when explaining where you were, what time is was, or what you saw at the time of a crime. A police officer could easily interpret any of these simple mistakes as lies.
A cop may not begin by having enough evidence to arrest you, but if you speak to them and say anything that could possibly be interpreted as your involvement in a crime – you could be walking your way right into a jail cell. Whether you are being casually questioned, suspected of a crime, or formally arrested, you better think twice before saying anything to the police.
We have all seen the TV show interrogations where a cop tells the suspect "If you cooperate with us, we'll cut you a deal." Let me be very clear on this point: POLICE OFFICERS CANNOT GRANT LENIENCY OR MAKE DEALS. Police officers often consider themselves part of the prosecutor's team. They may tell you that if you just confess, or give them the information they need, they will cut you loose or go easy on you. However, you must realize that police officers collect evidence and arrest people. They do no control the justice system further than that. Only the prosecutor, not the police, has the power to make a deal or grant leniency.
Even if you haven't committed a crime, it is extremely dangerous to give the police any information. You could make mistakes when explaining where you were at the time of a crime the officer talking to you could misremember what you say; you may be tricked into saying the wrong things; and your statements to police could, in combination with other faulty or misinterpreted evidence, lead to you being convicted of a serious crime.
If a police officer is questioning you, guilty or innocent, you need an attorney by your side to protect your rights. Contact the attorneys at the Campbell Law Firm today to see what options you have before answering questions.