Written by attorney Steven Edward Weir

Innocent or guilty, what should you do if a Police officer says (s)he would like to talk to you?

You did it. You didn't do it. It doesn't matter. The way to respond in all cases is the same. You want to walk away without making yourself look guilty. There is one tried and true way to keep from having statements you made to the police read in open court. Don't make any statements. "NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE". Do NOT consent to any search.

The 5th amendment to the United States Constitution states in part, "No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself".

This is where the Supreme Court finds the authority for an individual to remain silent.

The 6th amendment to the United States Constitution states in part, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

If you agree to talk, or volunteer to talk, and/or fail to tell the police you want to speak to an attorney, you will probably lose all benefits of these protections under the law. Sometimes even if you do initially invoke your right to counsel, you can be determined to have waived your right to an attorney later in the process.

What should you do? Your initial contact with the police.

The officer pulls you over in your car, walks up to you on the street, or knocks on your door, and says, "I'd like to see some identification", or, "I'd like to talk to you about ....XYZ". Ask respectfully why the officer is stopping you or wanting to speak to you. "Officer, is there some reason you are asking me for my identification? Officer, is there some reason you are asking me to talk to you?"

The police are required to have reasonable suspicion to stop you. This is some specific reason to believe you are involved in a crime. There are some differences from one state to another as to where the line is drawn. The general rule is that you don't have to produce identification just because they want it. But, if you fail to produce it, it is likely to result in detention or arrest, and then there is a long and expensive process in court to get satisfaction. As a practical matter, in most cases it is better to at least identify yourself, even if you don't produce identification, or don't have it on you. You should check with local counsel on the laws in your state to find out if your state requires the production of identification. Never tell them a false name, as that is a crime, and it will get you arrested.

No matter what the officer gives as an answer, your next line is, "I'm sorry officer, but I need to speak with an attorney before talking to you."

Now, the discussion should be over at this point, but then the monologue begins. Some officers will start telling you things, not asking you anything, in an attempt to get you to start volunteering information. Their goal is to get you to do what is referred to as Defendant/Suspect initiated conversation, even after they have already invoked their right to counsel.

DON'T SAY A WORD. Even if you have already said you want to speak with an attorney, if you engage in conversation, the court may find that you initiated the conversation, and thereby waived your right to speak to an attorney before being questioned. They get you talking about other things, and the next thing you know you've given them all they need to obtain a conviction. You can listen, but DO NOT SPEAK with them. Do not respond to their questions, accusations, or threats. They may threaten to take your children away. They may question your manhood/womanhood/parentage/maternal priorities/civic duty or 1000 other things. Do not talk to them other than to ask if you are free to go. If they say no, or ask you why you're looking a certain way, or why you are acting a certain way, or any other thing than yes, politely restate that you would like to speak to a lawyer.

If the officer says they want to search you, your car, your home and (s)he does not have a search warrant, simply say, "Officer, I am not consenting to a search before speaking to my lawyer, and I would like to speak to my lawyer." Do not resist a search, but do not agree. You must specifically state you are not agreeing to the search, and not do anything physical to prohibit the search.

There is no good thing that will come from talking to the police if you are a person of interest to them. Be smart. Innocent or guilty. Don't talk. Ever. Even if an attorney tells you it is okay to talk to the police, NEVER TALK TO POLICE. This applies to after you have an attorney as well as before you have an attorney. At no point in time should you be talking to the police.

Talking to the police is the equivalent of stepping into the batters box against a professional pitcher when you've never swung a bat before. You're going to lose.

Additional resources provided by the author

If you want to see how this plays out in the real world, I would recommend the movie "Under Suspicion", starring Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. This movie does a brilliant job of taking you through the process of how the police obtain false confessions. The initial plot is weak, but the value is in following the progressive nature of the interrogation, with a twist at the end. Some of the facts are over the top, but again, the true value is in following the process, and understanding that this happens in real life all the time. Make sure you watch the professor's video as well.

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