If you are reading this, then the police or other law enforcement officers may be on the way to question you. You should always be aware of your rights. These comments can help you avoid incriminating statements or saying something that you will later regret.
Here are a few things to remember when interacting with police:
- You have the right to remain silent – Just because a police officer asks you questions does not mean you have to answer. You can simply say something like, “I want to exercise my right to remain silent.” On the other hand, if you are sure that you are only a witness, or you are a crime victim, you may want to help by giving truthful and complete information. Either way, as explained below, a lawyer may be helpful.
- Anything you say can show up in court – One main reason that you may assert your right to silence is, as stated in the Miranda Rights, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” While it may be instinctive to try and defend yourself, it is often better to hold your tongue. Many police today wear shoulder microphones and body cameras. When they ask questions, they are aware that the conversation could be used as recorded evidence: they are, in fact, creating evidence with their recordings. If you make a different statement later, an inconsistent statement, the recording can be used against you.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) policy – always use two or more officers to investigate and never record anything. That way, if there is a dispute about what you said, it is your word against two FBI agents. This policy started when J. Edgar Hoover was Director of the FBI.
- Lying to a government official about an important fact can be charged as a crime – Just like you may want to jump in and explain things to law enforcement, it can be easy to deny the truth or make up excuses. However, even if you are innocent of the crimes they are investigating, they may be able to charge you for lying or intentionally obstructing an investigation. It is sometimes best to not say anything. “Silence” is not obstruction of justice.
- You can wait for your attorney – Your right to remain silent is meant to give you time to ask for and contact or retain and benefit from an attorney’s presence and advice. Waiting is usually wise because a lawyer will be able and help you answer questions and determine your best strategy. You may ask the officers for a card, a name, and the telephone number to give to an attorney. Unless there is an emergency, most officers will cooperate with this request.
- You may be free to leave – While the police may want you to stay put while they ask questions, they do not always have the right to hold you. If you are not under arrest and there is not “reasonable” suspicion to justify continued detention, you may leave or close the door and politely terminate the meeting. Calmly ask the officers, “Am I free to leave?” If they say, “yes,” then you may leave and contact a lawyer, who may then contact the police on your behalf. If they say “No,” then you probably should only say that you want a lawyer.
- Law Enforcement Agents can lie – While it is usually illegal for you to lie to the police, they can lie to you. Many often do lie in an investigation, to get you to start talking. Later, any false statement that you make can be used against you, if only to prove that you are not a truthful person and not worthy of belief if a different story is told by others.
- The police cannot offer you a “deal.” Only a prosecutor can bind the State or the federal government to a promise of leniency. An officer’s promise that your cooperation will result in reduced time or charges is unenforceable. “Deals” are only negotiated between your lawyer and the prosecutor and have to be approved by a judge.
- Do not believe everything that the police say.
Remember that as a civilian you have certain Constitutional rights, meant to protect everyone from police misconduct, and you from incriminating yourself. Be careful to exercise those rights. It is often best to consult an attorney before doing or saying anything that might affect your freedom and your family; or your money and your property.