Police Interrogation: No lawyer will save you; you must save yourself

We’ve all seen the cop show where the police are sweating a confession out of the accused and just as the killer is about to admit his guilt, the defense lawyer rushes in and cuts off the interrogation by shouting: “Don’t answer that! This interview is OVER!”

Apparently defense lawyers (like the Terminator) are able to barge into secure areas of the police station anytime they want. Guess what?  This NEVER happens.

When the police arrest someone and want to question them they first must read the suspect his rights as set forth in the US Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Most cops will carry a card from which the rights are read:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?

  • Number 1 is good to know, especially when read by a police officer, who–at this particular moment–is not your friend.
  • Number 2 is so blunt and honest it makes me want to cry. Read it again. Notice how “anything you say” can be used against you. So if you tell the truth, they can use that against you. And if you tell a lie–and they later find out–they will use that against you. Consider the meaning of remaining silent. It’s for the best. Just say: “I want to talk to a lawyer first.”
  • Number 3 gets a little tricky. It seems to say that if you ask for a lawyer, they get one in for you. News flash: THEY WON’T. But they have to stop asking questions (which is the main point here).
  • Number 4, like number 3, should not be misunderstood to mean that you will see a lawyer anytime soon. If it’s a Friday night, it would be a miracle if you saw the public defender before next week.
  • Number 5 just says you can confess to all, part or none of the crime. You can stop confessing whenever you want.

Another thing to keep in mind about these rights is that they are the rights of the accused, not his lawyer. If your spouse has hired a lawyer and sent the lawyer straight to the jail, he will not be rushing in to stop the questioning. You will not see him or even know he is in the building until the police are finished with their questions.

That is the bottom line: no suspect is going to talk to a lawyer until the police have finished their questioning (one exception being a DWI-related case where suspect is permitted to call a lawyer, IF THEY ASK TO).

If the police are smart–and many are–they will not let a suspect talk to ANY OUTSIDER until they get everything they can from the suspect. That will happen more quickly if the suspect stops all questioning by asking to talk to a lawyer.

Once the arrest and booking is over and the person is (hopefully) bailed out of jail, the accused will need a lawyer, but the case that is eventually presented to that lawyer to defend may be very different, depending on how well the defendant listened to the Miranda warnings and asserted those rights.

 

Are the police allowed to lie to me?

Most of us grow up being told that the policeman is our friend. We are not taught that he would lie to us. Some think that the police are not allowed to lie. This is so ingrained that even drug dealers believe it. This is why police reports and surveillance audios so often reveal a drug dealer asking a customer:

Dealer: “Are you a cop?”
Buyer: “No.”
Dealer: “OK.”

Busted. Yes, it’s true, the police are usually allowed to lie to citizens when they are fighting crime.


Lying about giving a statement:

If a suspect is arrested by the police, the police must BEGIN with a little straight honest talk. They read the person his Miranda rights:

 

 

 

After that, they can lie to and deceive a suspect in order to get a confession. And they can go pretty far before the court will draw the line and declare such confession to be coerced or involuntary. The police might tell a suspect:

  • That an accomplice implicated them in the crime.
  • That eyewitnesses have identified them as committing the crime.
  • That they have other evidence that they do not really have, such as fingerprints.

I’ve seen police who don’t want to lie outright, will only suggest that he has such evidence. Knowing he has no fingerprints or surveillance video, he will ask the suspect to explain how his prints or picture might turn up. Then there is the old story of the interrogator who hooks the suspect up to a copy machine. Then every time the detective pushes the button the machine prints out a “report” that says: “He’s lying.”

But they can’t lie about everything:

One thing police cannot do is mislead a suspect regarding the consequences of confessing. If an officer tells a suspect that his statement cannot be used against him or will not result in charges, one can easily see that contradicts the Miranda warning that the officer gave earlier.


Lying about getting consent to search:

Sometimes the police want to get into a suspect’s home. They want to look around, but do not have enough evidence to get a search warrant. Lying to the homeowner is one of his tools. An undercover police officer can come to the suspected drug dealer’s house, posing as a buyer. If he is allowed inside on that basis, he may seize evidence or find enough other evidence to get a search warrant. The undercover cop might get in by knocking and asking to use a phone. These deceptions have been allowed by courts to get consent to enter.

One thing the police cannot do is go beyond the actual consent to enter. The undercover cop–invited inside to buy drugs or use the phone–cannot then start nosing around in closets and drawers. They may not get into a building by claiming authority that they do not have. That would immediately destroy the voluntariness of the consent.

There is also no voluntary consent to enter when the homeowner allows a police officer to enter because the officer has falsely claimed to have a legal right to enter. The same would apply where a government agent claims a false emergency, perhaps by posing as a gas company employee.