How to deal with the police without screwing yourself
You have (almost) nothing to say
If you are detained by the police, your script is simple: first, politely ask the officer "Pardon me, officer, but am I under arrest?"
If the officer says "no" then your next line is: "Thank you, then I have nothing more to say and I will be on my way" and then you don't say another word to anyone - not to family, friends, or the police. Just stop talking and leave.
If, on the other hand, the officer says, "yes" then your line is: "I have nothing to say and I want to speak with my lawyer" and then you SHUT UP! You do not say another word.
Do NOT try and explain what happened, do NOT say anything because the police say "they want to help." Even if you committed no crime, even if you were in church in front of fifty witnesses - do not say anything other than "I have nothing to say and I wish to speak with my lawyer" - these magic words invoke powerful constitutional protections for you.
Understand that once you are arrested, it is unlikely that you will be released unless your lawyer can convince either the ADA or the court that there is no case against you. Let your lawyer do the talking.
Don't resist - it never ends well
One very rarely has the right to resist arrest. In many states, you don't even have the right to resist an illegal arrest. If you use force then you can be charged with resisting arrest or battery on a police officer, or worse.
Worse, you can end up with serious injuries. If you are arrested without probable cause, or the arrest is otherwise improper, shut up, insist on speaking with your lawyer and fight in court, not on the street.
You have the right to remain silent - use it!
If you have ever watched a police drama then you know that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Whether the police have read you your rights or not, say “I have nothing to say and I wish to talk to a lawyer.”
This is called "invoking your rights," Once you have invoked your rights, SHUT UP! People often make the mistake of invoking and then they start talking and say something incriminating. Remember that ANYTHING you say WILL be used against you in court.
It's okay to tell the police your name and your address and your birth date, but that's IT! DO NOT tell the police anything else. Invoke your rights and SHUT UP until your lawyer gets there. DO NOT talk to the police, do not talk to family or friends about your legal situation, and, if you are detained at a police station or jail, do not talk to the other inmates about anything! The only person you should talk to is your lawyer and NO ONE else.
The police are trained to get suspects to talk and say something incriminating. They will try and get friends or family to incriminate you. Other inmates may try to get you to talk to them, hoping that you will say something that they can turn over to police to get a better deal for themselves. Any conversations you have in jail with visitors, either in person or over the phone, might be recorded or monitored. ONLY conversations with your lawyer are confidential. You and your lawyer can decide what, if anything, you should say to the police.
I invoked my rights, now what do I do?
If you have not been arrested, depending on the circumstances of the police stop, after your leave then you might wish to consult an attorney.
If you are arrested, call for legal help! In most states, you are entitled to call your family, an attorney and, if applicable, a bail bondsman. If you are allowed only one call, then call an attorney, he or she can contact your family and anyone else needed.
If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will assign an attorney to you. You should memorize the numbers of a few lawyers to call in case you are arrested as it is unlikely that the police will let you use your cell phone. Again, assume that any calls you make from a police station or jail are recorded – unless the call is to your lawyer.
You are not going to talk your way out of this
An arrest is unpleasant and stressful. It's understandable to just want to explain the situation or cooperate, and hope it all goes away. The police know this and may even tell you that if you forget about having a lawyer and cooperate, that's exactly what will happen.
That's just not how it works. Do not try to explain "what really happened," or talk your way out of the situation, or make any decisions about your case, without first talking to a lawyer.
Do not say or do anything with regards to your case, until you see a lawyer.
The police can and will lie to you.
Yes, it's true. The police can, and will, lie during an investigation to obtain a confession. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that it’s legal for the police to lie to you is because the most important piece of evidence the police can get from any suspect is a confession.
This means that the police can say that they have witnesses, or video, or DNA, or fingerprints, or any other evidence that would cause a guilty person to give a statement against their interest, even if they don’t actually have such evidence. The only limit is they can't say things that would get an innocent person to confess, like claiming they will beat up your mother if you don't sign a confession.
It is not unheard of for people under investigation to come to believe that they did do something wrong simply because the police say so because they trust the police to tell them the truth.
It's okay if your lawyer can't get there immediately
When you invoke your rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer, you have actually placed yourself under the protection of the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The police cannot question you any further until you have access to a lawyer.
Your lawyer will not magically appear, especially if you are arrested outside normal business hours but asking for one invokes strong legal protections – even if it takes a while for your lawyer to get to you.
If you remember nothing else, remember to invoke your rights and SHUT UP!
I have worked in the Public Defender's office and in the District Attorney's office - most people who end up being convicted are convicted by their own words.
1) Invoke your rights immediately! Say, "I have nothing to say and I wish to speak to my lawyer"
2) Once you invoke, SHUT UP!
3) Do not speak to police, prosecutors, friends, family, or other inmates... only speak to your attorney about your case
4) Do not rely on promises made by the police or ADA that don't come through your lawyer. Remember the police can and will lie to you to get the statement they want. No matter what you are told, SHUT UP and only speak to your lawyer.
Additional resources provided by the author
The ACLU has a great resource on dealing with the police
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