When should I talk to the Cops? – Short Answer Never
Criminal defense attorneys are generally hired after someone is arrested and charged with a crime. But if someone is receiving phone calls from police or is under investigation for a crime, a lawyer may be able to prevent arrests or charges before they happen.
If you suspect you could be in trouble or if you feel as if a police officer is being accusatory, there are steps you can take to protect your rights.
Types of Police Questioning
Whenever a police officer questions someone, an explanation of rights and obligations is required. There are different rules for each situation.
- A voluntary encounter is a situation in which a suspect is free to leave. This kind of questioning does not require a warrant. A situation ceases to be “voluntary” any time police indicate that a suspect cannot leave.
- A temporary detention takes place when police have “reasonable suspicion” to believe an offense has been committed and the person being questioned was involved. Courts will generally side with police on this issue, but sometimes this law prevents citizens from being detained based on a simple hunch.
- The last one is an arrest. An officer has to have probable cause of a crime and this takes a situation beyond simple questioning.
When police begin calling someone at home or work asking for answers to a few questions, it usually means they think the person is connected to a crime. You may think that it is better to explain to them how you had nothing to do with the situation and explain your way out of it. You may think they are just calling you for help since you aren’t the criminal. You would likely be wrong. There are two main reasons why the police want to talk to you:
- You are their suspect; or,
- They think you are a potential suspect.
Police don’t generally call people for friendly chats; when they do, their goal is to validate suspicions and ultimately to make arrests. Anyone under suspicion of a crime has no obligation to speak to police. “You have the right to remain silent” isn’t a meaningless expression – it’s really a right. In fact, rights in dealing with cops are so important they are almost half of the Bill of Rights, amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8[i]. You should use these rights. None of the above types of encounters should happen without a lawyer present, and in most situations no lawyer will advise you to make a statement even with them present.
Why Not, What Can Go Wrong?
It’s impossible to know what the police intend to gain from a round of questioning. You don’t know what evidence they already have and how they will try and make that evidence work against you.
The following are just a few of the many things that could go wrong.
- You might accidentally lie. When being questioned by police, every single thing you say will be scrutinized. If you misspeak it causes suspicion. Even if you immediately recognize and correct your error, it’s too late. The police have already made a note of it and continue to paint you as a target.
- You might be misunderstood. Even if you think you have an airtight alibi, what you say can still be misunderstood or taken out of context. You probably don’t have a lot of practice speaking to police with unerring precision, even most attorneys would choose not to do so.
- You might admit to facts that can be used to prove guilt. Even if you’re innocent, something you say can come back to bite you. For example, you might admit to striking someone “in self-defense” or to simply being present when the incident in question occurred. Saying any of these things will only help the cops build a case against you.
Supreme Court Justice (and former Nuremberg Prosecutor) Robert Jackson wrote, “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.” Watts v. Indiana, 338 US 49 (1949)[ii]
If you want to discuss a potential issue you are dealing with, give us a call at 888-888-8980.