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.