One of the most common questions criminal defense attorneys get is whether or not it is a good idea to speak to the police. A police officer may want to speak with you in several situations. In a traffic stop, during an investigation relating to a criminal case where you may or may not be a suspect, or immediately before or after an arrest.
Do I have to speak to the police?
No you do not! The most you ever have to do is identify yourself and provide your driver’s license or identifying information. But under the Texas and United States Constitutions you never have to speak to the police beyond that, and the police understand this. This right is known as the Right Against Self Incrimination and it is found in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 10 of the Texas Constitution. Additionally, under the landmark Supreme Court case Miranda, a person charged with a crime has the right to remain silent and should not be questioned when they make it known that they are exercising their right.
When is it a good idea to speak to the police?
If you believe you are the suspect of an investigation, it is never a good idea to speak to the police without a criminal defense lawyer present to advise you. There is no upside to talking to the police in this situation. It is quite simple: In almost every case, if the police have enough evidence to charge you with an offense, there is nothing that you can say that will talk them out of it. If they do not have enough evidence to charge you with a crime, then by talking to them you risk giving them the evidence they lack.
For example, if the police suspect you of committing a theft because someone closely matching your appearance was observed shoplifting at a department store – but the police aren’t sure enough it was you to make an arrest – you risk helping them make their case by answering questions about your whereabouts. In other cases, even if you are innocent, you risk appearing guilty if you honestly misremember or forget a detail (the police could later claim that you intentionally lied). Remember, the police cannot use your silence against you but they will use your statements against you, even things that seem like unimportant details at the time. There is simply no upside to talking to the police!
It is important to remember not to not wait until Miranda warnings are read before you exercise your right to remain silent. In many situations, if an arrest has not been made and you are not in custody, the police are not actually obligated to read you your Miranda rights even though you could still say something incriminating. The moment to stay quiet is when you think that you could possibly be under investigation or implicated in a crime.
What if the police say they want to help and get “my side” of the story?
Police officers are trained to say things that will make suspects more likely to cooperate with them. One of the most common techniques is making a suspect feel like the officer is on his side and is simply wanting to “give an opportunity” for the suspect to tell “his story.” You should not fall for these police tricks! There is no advantage to speaking to the police, regardless of how much of an effort they appear to make to show they are on your side.
A police officer might also say things like “if you don’t answer my question, you’re leaving me no choice but to arrest you,” but again, this is just a way to pressure you to talk. Do not talk to the police and remember that during an investigation, the police will do what they will do regardless of what you say. If they are going to arrest you, they will arrest you regardless of what you say. Be smart, stay quiet and do incriminate yourself.
How should I refuse to talk?
Probably the safest way to exercise your right to remain silent is to ask for a lawyer repeatedly and clearly and say nothing more. Cases say that you must be clear that you are asserting your right to remain silent.
Are there any situations where I should talk to the police?
If you are the victim of a crime, or a witness, and you are 100% sure that you are not a suspect, or could not later turn into a suspect, you should feel free to talk to the police. But it is a good idea to always err on the side of remaining silent if you think there is even a remote possibility that you could be implicated in an investigation.
If you witness a fight in a bar, and you do not know the people, for example, there is normally an extremely low chance that you could later be implicated. But if a family member is murdered or makes an accusation of sexual assault, and a friend or family member is the suspect, it might be possible that you could turn into a suspect at some point. In these cases, you should exercise extreme caution when speaking to the police.
If I am under investigation should I hire a lawyer?
If you are not charged with an offense, but believe you may be under investigation, it is a good idea to consult with a criminal defense attorney. During the investigation phase of a case, a smart criminal defense attorney can speak to the police on your behalf and gain information relating to the case, and in some instances, even prevent charges from being brought. Unlike statements made by a suspect, statements a criminal defense attorney makes to a police officer will not be used against a suspect. Also, police officers should not contact a suspect they know is represented by an attorney.
If you believe you are the subject of a criminal investigation you should consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. Until you can speak to an attorney, it is critical to exercise your right to remain silent. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor and intimately understands how police investigations and interrogations work. Since becoming a defense attorney over 10 years ago, he has handled thousands of criminal cases ranging from DWI to theft to sexual assault and has helped clients in all stages of a criminal case. If you believe you are under investigation call Ceja Law Firm PLLC immediately for a free consultation.