I got a call from a buddy this last week. The police in his town were looking into a violent felony and called him in to talk to him as a witness. He was not a suspect, but he called me because he knows my background in law enforcement. He asked me if there was anything he should know when talking to the police. Here was my advice:
- Whenever possible, cooperate with the police. But realize there are times when you should not. I am about as pro-police as you can get, but the prison system continues to reveal falsely convicted people who confessed to crimes they didn’t commit because of the skills of the interviewers/interrogators. Realize that, by definition, ALL police interactions are either adversarial or potentially adversarial. When in doubt, even in the slightest, SHUT UP and call an attorney.
- Usually, the police will interview witnesses at the witnesses’ convenience (around their schedule, location, etc.). Being called into an interview room, as my friend was, can be (but isn’t always) an indicator of ulterior motives.
- The moment you begin to think that the police are questioning YOU (not simply taking a witness statement) STOP TALKING. You have time later to give them any information they need… after you have spoken to an attorney. JUST STOP TALKING.
- STOP TALKING. Did I make my point? The interviewers may tell you that you can’t leave, they have some chore they need you to do, and it will only be another ___ minutes, etc. Don’t explain yourself. Don’t ask questions. Immediately STOP TALKING.
- Then leave. The interviewers may try to stop you. If you are under arrest, they WILL stop you from leaving. Ask “Am I under arrest?”. If they say yes, ask for counsel, then say NOTHING FURTHER. Sit in the corner, close your eyes, and hum your favorite tune.
- STOP TALKING. Imagine the words “I have the right to remain silent!” written on the wall you are facing. Read it over and over in your mind. Tactics often employed are to offer deals if you supply missing information, employ guilt to make you feel like you must talk, or assuring you that they understand how you feel and just need the last few facts. Remember… police are allowed by the courts to lie about facts and evidence. They can say whatever they want to elicit a confession (on the now falsely held belief that no one would confess to a crime they didn’t commit).
- NO DEAL. Police cannot make “deals” (like if you confess we’ll reduce your charges…etc.) The prosecuting attorney makes deals. I have worked for a district attorney and in law enforcement… any “deal” made during an interview has to be run by the prosecuting attorney anyway. Leave the deal making to your attorney.
- MOVE IT. Have you ever seen an interview room? Usually there are two padded chairs (for each interviewer) and one uncomfortable chair for the interviewee. A desk or table is used as a symbol of authority (remember being called into the principal’s office?) with the other interviewer used to “block in” the suspect. The suspect is placed away from light switches, thermostats, etc. to add to the feeling of being cornered/isolated. The interviewers can/will invade personal space to assert control or draw out feelings of insecurity. So what to do? Get up! Move the chair. They can ask you to leave it alone… do it anyway. They can enforce laws by putting you under arrest, not tell you where to sit or when to speak/not speak when you are not under arrest. Be an informed citizen!