When Accused of Any Crime, Remember You Have the Right to Remain Silent

November 2, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

Pop quiz: If you are arrested, what should you say to the police?

a) Explain why you are innocent.
b) Confess, if you are guilty.
c) Identify yourself, then say nothing more.

Some defendants may be surprised to find out that the answer is c) -- regardless of whether you committed the crime you’re accused of. In fact, as a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer, I advise all of my clients to politely decline any questions from police until I can get there. Doing otherwise can lead to big trouble -- a criminal conviction, new charges, implicating someone who you'd like to protect. In fact, two recent Supreme Court cases have dealt with cases that could have been tainted by failure to explain that the defendants had the right to stay silent. In this post, I’d like to discuss why that’s one of the most important rights available to anyone who is suspected or accused of a crime.

Fundamentally, you should never talk to the police because talking to the police can’t help your case. That’s true regardless of whether you are guilty. But let’s say you’re not guilty of the crime they’re asking about, so you think it’s okay to tell them whatever you know. This is bad because:

  • The police are not interested in proving that you’re not guilty -- their job is to get a confession. Their job makes them suspect that anything you say is a lie unless it fits with what they know or think they know.
  • Police interrogations are designed to be stressful, to make it harder to think about your answers and remember your rights. This makes it easy to contradict yourself by accident or even say things that aren’t true. In fact, the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to free people who are in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, found that a quarter of its clients had confessed -- even though scientific evidence proved they were innocent.
  • By giving the police more information about yourself, you’re giving them reasons to blame the crime on you. For example, if you say you don’t like your neighbor’s loud dog, they could decide that’s a motive for the neighbor’s murder.
  • Any time you make any statement, it can be compared with something you said earlier or something you say later. If those things seem to contradict each other, the police can call you a liar in court. This actually happens, even with small, unimportant statements or with details no one could reasonably remember.
  • Any statement you make, even a true statement, can be contradicted by a witness who is lying or remembers wrong, or by faulty physical evidence.
  • You could inadvertently confess to something else. There’s no guarantee that the police are interested only in the events you think they’re interested in.
  • If you talk to police officers without a non-police witness or a recording, you have no guarantee that the officers will remember the interrogation the same way you did. Even if you say nothing to incriminate yourself, they could remember a detail differently and make you look like a liar. More rarely, officers can lie intentionally.
  • Even if officers do listen and believe the evidence supports your story, they cannot testify at trial about what you said. Under a legal rule called the hearsay rule, no one can testify that something is true without direct, firsthand experience.

Many of these objections also apply to people who are guilty and want to confess. For example, let’s say you confess in the interrogation room that you did kill your neighbor’s dog. That’s not the same as confessing that you killed the neighbor, but if there was no recording of your confession, you have no way to prove that. Furthermore, with the help of Miami-Dade criminal defense attorney, you can use a guilty plea to negotiate a lighter sentence, lower charges, immunity or a chance to pay restitution. You won’t have that opportunity if the police have a confession on record before charges are even filed.

The best way to avoid these problems is to have an Orange County criminal defense lawyer like me present to protect your rights. As an attorney, I know the law, so I can object to questions and interrogation tactics that violate my clients’ rights. I can tell clients which questions shouldn’t be answered. And I can help clients use the information they do have to get the best possible outcome, whether that means a not guilty verdict or a plea deal. As a client, your job is to ignore police questions, pressure and intimidation tactics until I can get there. You can should identify yourself and be polite, but your answer to every other question should be “I can’t answer that without a lawyer.”

If you’re accused of a crime in Florida, or believe you will be soon, don’t wait before calling Seltzer Law, P.A. Criminal defense attorney David Seltzer offers free, confidential consultations 24 hours a day and every day of the week, so you can reach us whenever legal trouble happens. To learn more or set up a meeting, call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us a message online today.