People often ask what they should say to police officers who want to speak with them. Other than simply confirming your identity, don’t talk with the police or any other law enforcement officers conducting an investigation without first speaking with a lawyer.
It may come as a shock, but the police can and will lie to you. I don’t say that to disparage the police. They certainly perform a vital function in our society and I’m personally grateful for most of what they do.
But, unlike in England and many other countries, the police in the United States are permitted to lie to you about many things when conducting an investigation. I’ve had cases where the police have lied to my clients and then the clients unfortunately commented on, or tried to explain, the lie. In those situations, many of those clients have made their case much more difficult to defend. In other cases, my clients made statements that seemed innocuous to them, but later proved to damage their case. Under most circumstances it is therefore highly inadvisable to talk with the police for the following reasons.
First, in the overwhelming majority of cases I’ve not seen anyone talk their way out of an arrest. Instead, I’ve seen countless people damage their case by talking to the police. So, don’t be tempted when officers suggest you can “clear the air” or tell your side of the story to avoid trouble.
Secondly, if you talk with the police they will likely elicit your confession. Once you’ve confessed, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for your lawyer successfully to suggest your confession wasn’t voluntary or true. So you will have assisted the State in making a relatively “air tight” case against you by talking to the police. The only thing left to do in your case at that point will be to decide your appropriate punishment. Without a confession, however, your lawyer may be able to demonstrate sufficient weaknesses in your case to get it dropped or the charges reduced.
Third, if you talk with the police and embellish or otherwise intentionally or unintentionally make inflated or inaccurate statements, even if seemingly inconsequential, you could very well cause your credibility to be questioned. Thereafter, all your statements may be met with doubt and suspicion by the State, regardless of their actual truth or accuracy.
Fourth, even if you make a true and accurate report to the police, they may inaccurately record your statements and conduct in their written report, which from the State’s perspective is the “Bible” in your case. If the police report contains inaccuracies, you will then have to contend those inaccuracies are not what you did or said, but rather are the products of mistakes made by the police in recording your statements and events surrounding your arrest. In that situation, it will be your word against one or possibly more police officers who will be reluctant to admit an error on their part. Who do you think the State Attorney and/or jury will believe in that event? Not you.
Fifth, while the police may offer you leniency or immunity from prosecution, they lack the authority to do so. Rather, the only entities with such authority are the State Attorney, or if you are under investigation by the federal government, the United States Attorney. So if you talk to the police in reliance on their promises of leniency or immunity, you likely won’t reap any such benefits. And that is especially true if you sign a form consenting to be interviewed, as such forms usually disclaim the police made any such promises, despite what the officers may have orally told you.
Sixth, you may be accused of committing one offense when, in fact, you are actually guilty of another, lesser offense. If in the process of talking to the police you confess to the higher offense, you will lose the ability to resolve your case for the less onerous penalties associated with the lesser charge.
Finally, if you give a statement to police and then later go to trial, your statement can be used to “impeach” you. That means it can be used to discredit you by highlighting any inconsistencies between your version of the facts you gave to the police and the version you tell the jury. We are human beings, not tape recorders. You will most certainly recount your version of events differently at trial than you initially did to the police much earlier in your case. No matter how trivial the differences in your two versions of the incident, the State will use those differences to discredit you as a liar. If you don’t give a statement to police, there will be no prior statement for the State to use as impeachment.
For all these reasons and more, if police officers want to talk with you, you should consult with a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer knowledgeable about the hazards and risks associated with you doing so. If you do, you will have the best chance of avoiding irreparable harm to your case. Call me for a free case strategy session to discuss how I can best help you avoid damaging your case if the police want to talk with you in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Macclenny, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg, St. Augustine or surrounding areas.