Okay, so it’s not a date, it's an interrogation by a person with a badge either on the side of your car or in a police station interview room. Unfortunately, most people in this situation make the mistake of thinking that the more you talk, the better off you’ll be. It’s natural. It’s normal. And it’s usually a complete disaster.
First, let’s begin with the basics: You have a right to remain silent. Those words are in your history books, on every TV crime show, and by now, in your very DNA. The officer will sometimes read you that exact line along with your other Miranda warnings. Then he’ll stare at you for a long time and wait for you to speak. Silence begs to be filled. Other times, he’ll tell you the infamous line uttered in the title: “This will go a lot better if you just talk to me.” Unfortunately, this is only similar to a date in that you two totally want different things out of it. The officer typically wants to confirm his suspicions (or he wouldn’t be talking to you in the first place) and you just want to go home and forget the whole thing ever happened.
Unfortunately, the words you put emphasis on may not be the ones your officer is hearing. I’ll give you an example: in every criminal case, there is a list of elements that need to be checked off before a jury can overcome a presumption of innocence and find you guilty of a crime. It’s a devil’s checklist that an officer is trying to complete before he submits his case to the prosecutors. So if he’s investigating a crime where he needs to show that (1) On May 25, 2019, (2) in Bexar County, (3) you the Defendant, (4) Intentionally (5) Caused bodily injury, (6) to someone with whom you had a dating relationship. The officer need only ask: “So tell me what happened?”
Let’s say your answer is simple, "My girlfriend and I were at my house on Martin Street and I accidentally yawned really fast and I hit her in the eye. I told her I was sorry.”
You’re thinking, now the officer knows what really happened, so he’ll let me go because it was JUST an accident. But look at the officer’s checklist again. You have just admitted to (1) the when, (2) the where, (3) the who, (5) the assault, and (6) the relationship between you and the victim. The officer is undoubtedly thinking that he’s gotten everything he needs from your one statement except what was in your mind (your intent) at the time and the jury will make that jump on their own once they hear that you admitted to everything else.
Look, it’s not to say it’s never okay to speak to the police. Sometimes, a conversation with an officer can preempt an arrest, a charge, and even an indictment. But the fact is, no one on earth should make that decision without consulting with a criminal defense lawyer first. Here are some simple rules to follow:
- In situations like the example, begin with these words: “With all due respect, I don’t want to answer any questions without an attorney present.” Try not to pay attention to the officer's disappointed look. At that point, just be quiet and wait until the silence is over, and you are either led away or allowed to leave.
- Remember that you are always on camera: Police dash cameras, body cameras, cameras in the back seat of the police vehicle, and that phone in the interview room are all recording you and will be listened to and played to a jury at some point.
- That officer will never be your friend . . . like ever. So don’t try to establish a bond. If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, then realize you are from Neptune and that officer is from Mercury. You will never be on the same planet. You want different things. It's not you, it's him.
- Sometimes the old adage is true, "You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride." Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, you're getting arrested, no way around it. If that happens, just get to your attorney the moment the “ride” part is over.
- Don’t let them catch you riding dirty. Remember that the fastest way to make sure you spend an hour in the back of a patrol car on the side of the road or spend 3 hours in an interview room is if they get you on an easy violation. So don’t drive (1) with drugs, (2) in a car smelling like pot, (3) with warrants of any kind, or (4) any of the other 10,000 petty crimes that will wind you up in handcuffs and in an officer's immediate control.
The bottom line is this: be quiet and call an attorney. Follow these simple rules and you stand a better chance of winning in a difficult situation.