You have the right to remain silent. If you've ever watched a crime show on TV, you're half way there because you can probably recite the Miranda rights by heart. So remember, when the cops ask you any questions, you should respond with only one thing: "I assert my right to remain silent." This is extremely important, though sometimes difficult; especially when the cops pretend to not hear you the first five times you say it. It is human nature to try to talk your way out of trouble, but know this: nothing you say to the cops will be used help you, only to hurt you. You would think it's impossible to talk your way into trouble if you didn't do anything wrong, but there are two major problems with this thinking: First, you don't know all of the elements of any possible crime so you can't know if you're incriminating yourself; that's why you never make a statement to the police without first seeking advice from a lawyer. Secondly, the cops can interpret what you say however they see fit. Police officers can "summarize" what a defendant has said to them only to be reviewed by a confused defendant who doesn't remember saying anything of the sort! Unfortunately, the cop will testify that he accurately wrote down what you said and the only way it can be challenged is if the you testify, thereby waiving your right to remain silent.
2. Never give consent for searches!
For one, you don't have to! If the police have enough probable cause to search you or your property, they will get a search warrant. If not, tell them no, they do not have your permission. This applies to everyone in every situation for many reasons, even if you truly didn't do anything wrong. Secondly, you really don't know if you're in possession of something that can be viewed as illegal because there are just so many different criminal statutes. Even if the police tell you that they're looking for drugs and you know you don't have any, you may feel inclined to consent to a search, but you must not! If you do, even if the cop doesn't find anything illegal, he may get irritated or embarrassed of not finding anything and charge you with "Disobeying a Lawful Order of a Police Officer". If you need another reason, keep in mind that once you've consented to a search, you've become responsible for anything they may break! Don't even try to guess how many cars have been scratched, cell phones have been dropped, and laptops have been smashed by "accident" after consent was given to search, and the cops don't have to pay for any of it if you've consented!
3. Ask "Am I free to go?"
Cops will often try to trick you into thinking that you are forced to stay at a particular location. They may say something like, "I need to ask you a few questions" without mentioning that you have no obligation to answer them. This is somewhat tricky, however, because walking away when the police ordered you to stay is illegal. The police will often use strange language to try to confuse you. The way to determine whether or not you can leave is by asking, "Am I free to go?" If they refuse to answer the question, ask again. Unless you've been ordered to stay where you are, you can leave.
4. Never lie to the police
This is another important rule to remember. You are never required to agree to a police interview, but if you decide to speak to the police, lying to them can get you charged criminally.
5. Never sign a waiver of any rights
Unless you've spoken to and have been advised to do so by YOUR attorney, you should never waive any of your rights. The police on occasion will ask you to sign a waiver or a statement but you are never required to voluntarily waive any right, so don't do it unless you've had a chance to speak to an attorney of your choosing first.
6. Never agree to police interviews
This is related to asserting your right to remain silent, but this one goes further. Even if you have not been charged with any crime and the police say they want to interview you "just to figure out what happened" or to "know your side of the story" do NOT agree to an interview! It can only get you into trouble. It is virtually impossible to talk your way out of charges. Think about this way: If the police have enough to charge you without your statement, they will charge you no matter what you say, and if they don't have enough to charge you without your statement, they won't charge you unless you say the wrong thing and get yourself into trouble.
7. Don't agree to a police-administered polygraph
Polygraph tests are tricky and are often misinterpreted. They are not admissible in court but rarely, the police may decide to not pursue charges against a suspect if he or she passes a polygraph. Unfortunately, the majority of polygraph results are inconclusive, even if you are telling the truth. However, this certainly will not stop the cops from telling you that you "failed" the polygraph, and thereby coerce a confession out of you. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to know you're innocent of the crime you're being charged, but the cops are telling you that you failed a polygraph and are facing serious jail time, but they say they can help; they say that if you just confess, they'll make sure you stay out of jail. You may think you have nothing to lose by confessing since you already "failed" the polygraph. Also, the police will conduct a full-blown interview with you either before, during, or after administering the polygraph, which you already know not to agree to do.
8. Trust your lawyer
Your lawyer, if you retain a good one, will know what to do and how to do it. Sometimes, the best approach is to negotiate but the majority of the time the best approach is to fight. It is extremely important that your lawyer has all of the information and one-hundred percent of it must be true, otherwise your defense could fall apart at trial.
9. Have the same lawyer throughout the entire process
Sometimes people won't want to spend the money on a lawyer at the very beginning of the case with the hopes that things will work out, but if not, they'll hire a lawyer for trial. This is backwards thinking. Trial strategy begins at the very beginning of a case. Your lawyer needs to see the evidence as early as possible, attend all hearings, cross-examine all witnesses, and file all motions to truly be fully prepared. It is true that if you are close to trial and you need a new layer, it is better late than never, but it is always best to retain a lawyer with whom you are comfortable in the very beginning of your case.
10. Retain a lawyer of your choosing
Here's a dirty little secret: Lawyers are in the business of law. Far too often, lawyers feel an obligation to whoever is paying their fees. If you received a court-appointed lawyer, you may have been appointed an excellent lawyer who will fight diligently to protect all of your rights. But more likely than not, your attorney will want to dispose of your case quickly and easily with as little work as possible. He or she is simply not getting paid enough to do any significant work on it. Think about it this way: The government brings charges against you, and the government pays YOUR court-appointed lawyer. See the potential problem there?
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