Written by attorney Rochelle S. Berliner

The Do's and Don'ts of Dealing With Law Enforcement During an Investigation

Make No Statement to the Police under Any Circumstances

You may receive a call from a police officer or a detective one day asking you to come to the precinct because he wants to talk to you about a complaint that was made against you or a crime that was committed in the area, or something to that effect. He isn’t specific and doesn’t say whether or not he intends to arrest you. Alternatively, the detective or police officer may tell you that you are not a suspect, and that he just wants to talk.

You make ask the detective or law enforcement officer if you should speak to a lawyer or bring a lawyer with you. The officer will probably respond with something along the lines of, "Why speak to a lawyer? Are you guilty of something?" When called to the precinct, you will likely believe that if you go and speak to the police you will avoid arrest. If you do this, it will likely lead to your arrest.

What You Should Do

Do not go to the precinct. Write down the detective’s phone number, call your attorney and have your attorney speak to the detective. Alternatively, give the detective your attorney’s phone number and have him call your attorney. If the detective wants to arrest you, then your attorney will schedule your surrender.

If the detective wants to arrest you but does not have enough evidence to make an arrest, and your attorney speaks to him, you will not be arrested. If you go to the precinct, any statement you make WILL be used against you and you will be arrested. There is no way that going to the precinct will be beneficial, whether you are guilty of a crime or not.

Why You Should Not Go to the Precinct

The primary reason not to go to the precinct is that there is no way it can help you. If the detective’s intention is to arrest you, you absolutely will not be able to talk him out of doing so. In fact, whatever you tell the detective can only be used against you. If you give the detective a statement that frees you from blame (an exculpatory statement), it cannot help you because at a trial the District Attorney will not introduce the statement as evidence because it does not help their case.

Further, your attorney cannot introduce it as evidence because the statement would be considered hearsay. Your exculpatory statement cannot be used "for" you. What you tell the police is only admissible against you at a trial.

Scenarios If You Are Guilty

If you are guilty of the crime the detective is investigating, and you admit your guilt, your admission will be used against you. It is always a possibility to eventually plead guilty, and perhaps receive a plea deal, if you actually are guilty. There is no need to plead your guilt to the detective immediately.

Do not even admit to facts the detective already knew because you think there is no problem in confirming what he already knows. This can be problematic if the officer retires or moves away. The case would otherwise not be able to go forward, but the District Attorney would still have the confession you made to use against you. If you had not made a confession, the case would have been dismissed.

Scenarios If You Are Innocent

If you are innocent of the crime, the detective is investigating, and you deny your guilt while mostly telling the truth, you could easily unintentionally tell a small lie or make a small mistake that will be detrimental to your case. If you are an innocent person, questioning by a detective in a small room at a precinct can be a stressful situation where you are likely to be nervous and just blabber. Although this is human nature, it is important not to do it. Do not even put yourself in that situation.

If you are innocent and only tell the truth, it is likely that you will give the police some little tidbit of information that can eventually be used to convict you. This piece of information could be as minute as where you were on the day the crime took place.

Even if you are completely innocent, only tell the truth and say nothing incriminating, there is still a chance that your answers can be used to convict you. This is especially the case if your answers are not written by you because the statement was oral or was written by the detective but not signed by you, and the detective does not recall the answers with 100% accuracy.

Even if you are completely innocent, only tell the truth and say nothing incriminating, your answers can still be used to convict you if your statement is videotaped, and the detective’s questions are not on the videotape, or if the detective does not recall the questions with 100% accuracy.

Even if you are completely innocent, only tell the truth and say nothing incriminating, your answers can still be used to convict you if the entire interview, including questions and answers, is videotaped. If the detective has any evidence, even mistaken or unreliable, to show that anything you have said in your statement is false, your answers can be used to convict you, even if the false information is not a specific act of the crime.

Potentially Harsher Punishments

Finally, if you are convicted after a trial and it is shown that you lied to the police by claiming you did not commit the charged crime, you could ultimately receive a harsher punishment from the judge.

Cops are trained and experienced in making people talk. You might want to get in and out of the precinct in a hurry, but the cops are not in any hurry, and that’s how they can make you confess. Too many convictions are based on false confessions - don’t let your situation become one of these cases.

The privilege against self-incrimination serves as a protection to the innocent, as well as to the guilty - use it.

Additional resources provided by the author

For more information on law enforcement investigation, including actions to take after suspected police misconduct and defenses to criminal charges, please visit my website.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer