Should I Talk To The Police? This is a question that I am often asked, and in most cases the answer is no.
After an arrest, or during the course of an investigation, a police officer or detective will make efforts to interview any witness or witnesses to a crime, including any potentiall suspect. The impression that many people have is that the investigation which is occurring is balanced – that the police officers and/or detective in charge of the file has an open mind and is trying to weigh and seek the truth to the different accounts or competing claims that arise. Many people that are suspects to a crime that are innocent believe, or are told, that giving a statement is in their best interest. In most cases, speaking to a law enforcement officer about your side of the story is not a good idea. The role of a police officer or detective is to build a criminal case against an individual by collecting evidence and statements that constitute probable cause. Any statement made by person can and will be used against them in a Court of law.
When a person is in custody they are considered a suspect to a crime. Police officers will attempt to monitor and collect any statements made by a suspect such as pre arrest non custodial statements, statements recorded in the back of a patrol car with a hidden recorder, volunteered statements by a suspect, and monitored telephone calls at the jail. The suspect at a certain point is usually brought to a room for questioning by a detective. Often these conversations are secretly recorded, especially when the allegation is serious. The suspect is usually advised of Miranda Rights both orally and by a form that is usually initialed and signed by the suspect with the unstated purpose to help ensure that the statement cannot be suppressed by an experienced defense lawyer.
There are different interrogation techniques, but the goal of the detective is always to obtain a confession. A suspect should never volunteer any statements, and should clearly ask to speak with a lawyer before saying anything to a police officer, detective, or any law enforcement officer. If the suspect asks for a lawyer, any questioning by law enforcement should cease at that time.
Suspects that are not in custody are sometimes visited at home or work by a police officer or detective. Sometimes they receive a telephone call or letter which indicates that a particular detective would like to speak with them about
something that allegedly occurred. At the beginning of that meeting, the suspect is usually told that they are free to go, and that they do not have toanswer any questions if they do not want to. Many times, but not always,the Miranda rights will be read to a suspect. A police officer or detective, however, can interview a person without advising him or her of their Miranda rights if they are not in custody and still have that person’s answers be admissible in Court. Technically, the Miranda rights must be given only when the person being questioned is in custody. Again, sometimes these conversations are secretly recorded.
There are different interrogation or interview techniques, which often involves one or a combination of the following: attempts to gain friendship or trust through small talk; minimizing the criminal consequences of the suspect; minimizing or justifying the actions of the suspect; affirming that the suspect is a good person who simply made a mistake; repeatedly telling the suspect that they are not believed seeking for them to change their statement denying responsibility; appealing to the suspects conscience or decency; indicating that if they do not give a statement they will not be able to present their side of the story to the prosecutor which will hurt them; claiming that the police have other information, evidence (such as DNA, fingerprints, videos, etc.), or witness statements that links the suspect to a crime – even if it is not true – and that he or she might as well confess; indicating the amount of time that they can be held in custody until the police get to the bottom of what happened; appealing to the emotions of the suspect by speaking about their children or spouse; etc., etc. A police officer and/or detective are surprisingly lawfully able to lie to a suspect in Michigan in an attempt to get him or her to make a statement or confession.
A common interrogation method used by police officers is The Reid Technique, which is controversial because many people believe it leads to false confessions. The Reid Technique consists of 9 steps:
- Step 1 – Direct Confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
- Step 2 – Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
- Step 3 – Try to discourage the suspect from denying his guilt. Reid training video: “If you’ve let him talk and say the words ‘I didn’t do it’, and the more often a person says ‘I didn’t do it’, the more difficult it is to get a confession.”
- Step 4 – At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the confession.
- Step 5 – Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
- Step 6 – The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
- Step 7 – Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. There is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
- Step 8 – Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
- Step 9 – Document the suspect’s admission and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).
Once the Miranda rights are given, they are never repeated unless there is a lengthy break in the questioning. During the questioning, the suspect is never reminded that he or she is free to not answer any questions or stop the questioning at any time. With the pressure and stress involved, and the types of interrogation techniques used, a suspect often forgets the Miranda warnings – even when they are given at the beginning of the questioning process. Usually the questioning ends when the detective determines it should end. In many cases it ends with a confession.
It is important for anyone who speaks to a detective to remember that a detective has years of experience as apolice officer before becoming a detective. Detectives are trained in interrogation techniques, and take pride in eliciting statements. The detective in many instances may seem friendly, but he or she is not a friend of the suspect – even if the detective gives him or her a hamburger, a cup of coffee, a cigarette, makes sure their children are okay, gives the suspect a ride to and from the police station, etc. Detectives often have little concern if the confession made by the suspect is what actually occurred, or if it is an effort to end the interrogation by agreeing with the detective. Some people simply are not good with pressure, and will eventually capitulate to an authority figure or a suggestion when confronted or cornered. I have never read a police report that indicated that the suspect confession is not reliable because he or she was broken by the questioning that occurred. Many members of the public (some of which ultimately become jurors) have the mistaken impression that a statement obtained from a suspect is always reliable if it does not involve the use of torture, sleep deprivation, or threats.
On many occasions innocent statements have been misconstrued or misinterpreted against an individual leading to their arrest. Seemingly innocent statements can place an individual at the scene of an alleged crime or otherwise relieve the police, detectives, and prosecutors of proving critical issues concerning a case. Conversations about unrelated issues can sometimes lead to a conversation about an alleged crime – it is sometimes difficult for someone to stop an interrogation once it starts. Again, it is critical for a suspect to not speak to any law enforcement, and to clearly invoke their right to legal counsel.
The first person, and probably only, person you should speak to if a criminal allegation is made against you is an experienced criminal defense attorney, such as the lawyers at Hilf & Hilf, PLC, in a private location. Statements made to a lawyer in private by a client or potential client are confidential communications that cannot be disclosed without that person’s consent. It is sometimes critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney before any charges occur to try and dissuade a prosecution or to try and influence charging decisions. An experienced criminal defense attorney can intercede on your behalf and speak with detectives and prosecutors. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can plan a strategy for your defense, and help you to decide what – if any – information should be provided to law enforcement concerning an investigation. Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer often prevents situations where a suspect is arrested without warning from home or work. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help an individual obtain a reasonable bond. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help an individual obtain an acquittal, or the best possible resolution, concerning a criminal charge or charges.