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Know Your Rights: Police Questioning

I recently met with a potential client who had been contacted by a local police agency for questioning.  They fully cooperated and answered all of the officer’s questions, alone. During the interview the officer mentioned a polygraph test. The word “polygraph” worried them and so they called me.

Trust your gut!

If something doesn’t feel right, scares you, or worries you, trust it. Because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

If you’re contacted by police for questioning, remember you have the right to remain silent.

You also have the right to have an attorney present during any questioning.  Contact one.  Meet with a lawyer to discuss why the police might be contacting you.  Strategize with the lawyer to decide if it’s a good idea or not.

The State has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt; you don’t have to help them do it. For example, I have represented clients who were being investigated, and we decided it was not a good idea for them to be questioned by police.  After consulting, you might decide you are too young and inexperienced.  You don’t want to be questioned by an officer with 17 years of experience.  You might be easily confused and that experienced officer has just walked you into saying something you never would have. And it’s recorded! Keep in mind that officers are trained in interrogation techniques.  They talk to suspects every day.  They interpret your body language, your eye contact, your heart rate, your breathing pattern, and even if you are sweating.  You are not trained and this may be the first time you have ever spoken to a police officer. Don’t go to this meeting without talking to a professional – a criminal defense attorney.

Even if you want to cooperate, it could be helpful to have an attorney sitting next to you as an extra set of ears.  In several of my cases, my clients and I have decided to cooperate. We went to the police department together and I was in the interview room with them. I was there to think ahead to how these questions and statements could be used later. I could explain to the police specific points that my client forgot.  I was there the entire time if my client had a question or concern; they were never alone. I have sat next to men, women, and juveniles. I believe that everyone should consult a lawyer before they are questioned. If you consult a lawyer afterwards, it’s too late.

A lot of people call me and ask “Should I talk to the police. If I don’t will they arrest me?”  There is not a bright line rule.  I have had clients that were never arrested after they went in for questioning.  And I have had clients leave the interview room knowing that a warrant would be issued.  Officers decide whether to file charges based on the evidence they have.  If the evidence, including your statements, suggests that a crime was committed, they will arrest you.  However, if your statements give them evidence that a crime didn’t occur, then the officers may close the case.

We are taught as children to cooperate with police and follow their orders. I teach that same lesson to the children in my life.  But if an officer contacts you and asks you to come in for questioning, you can be cooperative while at the same time exercising your constitutional rights. Contact a lawyer.  I represent people who are uncharged but under investigation, in addition to my clients that are charged.  Schedule a meeting with your lawyer.  Discuss the risks and benefits of being interviewed. Make an educated decision.  Criminal charges are very serious, with long-standing consequences. You don’t want to rush into a decision or have any regrets.  Seek representation.

Mental Health in Williamson County

Every year as New Year’s Eve approaches I think about resolutions, things I want to learn in the upcoming year, or bad habits I want to leave behind.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen friends post challenges on Facebook and photos on Instagram of their new habits.  But, at the same time, there is a realization that January 1st is simple the day that follows December 31st and many of the challenges of one year are present in the next.  Some people feel overwhelmed and saddened by another year of the same troubles.

I represent many people who suffer from mental illness; depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction.  During the winter, we also see many people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”.) The time change causes shorter days, and combined with cooler temperatures, people can feel increased anxiety, sadness, stress, lack of enjoyment in regular activities, feelings of isolation, and mood swings. When these feelings last longer than a season it may be depression.  People diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have these feelings of depression and hopelessness, but then can change to mania, highs, feelings of euphoria, increased activity and irritability.  Lastly, my clients with schizophrenia may suffer from confused thinking, an inability to know what is real, or experience delusions.  Many people diagnosed with a mental illness also suffer from anxiety, depression or substance abuse addiction.

What does all of this mean?

The holiday season can exacerbate feelings of isolation, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness.  As a community, we then see increased levels of suicide, mental health commitments, and violence.  Since the beginning of the year, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has documented numerous suicides and unknown numbers of suicide attempts. We have all seen the news about the tragic homicide of a mother and the kidnapping of her two daughters that Round Rock PD investigated last week.  Each of these cases left family members mourning and a community asking, “why?”

We may never know the answer to “why?”  But after a devastating suicide I always see the suicide hotline number passed around, or I see school counselors tells their students that their “door is always open.” I have shared that same sentiment with a friend going through a hard time.  “Call me if you need anything.   I’m here.”  However, this assumes that friend knows they need help and can ask for it.  What if they are embarrassed?  What if they don’t know their feelings aren’t common or can change?  What if they don’t have the energy to pick up the phone?  What if no one is paying attention?

It’s hard to ask for help, but you know what is easier? OFFERING HELP.

My resolution or challenge to you is pay attention and reach out.  If you notice that you haven’t seen your neighbor in a couple of days.  If you haven’t heard from your friend in a while.  If your co-worker is coming to work late, possibly intoxicated, and suggesting that life would be easier if they weren’t there.  Offer them help.  Don’t ignore it or turn a blind eye. It takes more energy to be present and it may take some time to talk to them, but the change you can make is immeasurable.

And if you don’t know what to do, there are great resources right here!

Williamson County has Bluebonnet Trails with locations in Round Rock, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Hutto, and Taylor.  Bluebonnet Trails offers services from addiction assistance, to issues facing juveniles, veteran’s services, and major mental illness services. They have caseworkers, counselors, psychiatrists, and jail diversion.  They are such a well connected and knowledgeable organization that they answer my questions!

I have also volunteered with Heroes Night Out. They’re a wonderful resource for Veterans and their families. They are veterans helping veterans.  Soldiers who have been there, done that, and can relate to how their brothers or sisters are feeling.  When someone feels isolated and alone, to know that someone else is out there that feels like them or knows what they’re going through, then they are no longer alone.

And in some cases, people need medication and hospitalization.  Trust your gut.  If you feel like someone is going to hurt themselves or others, call the police. They have Crisis Intervention Teams trained to handle mental health crises.  We also have hospitals designed for mental health treatment and/or substance abuse treatment.

So, let’s practice healthy habits in 2018.  Take care of your mental health.  Be present.  Offer help to those around you.  Happy New Year!