By: Mark Diaz
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5 Reasons to Never Speak to Police Without a Lawyer
“You have the right to remain silent.” This famous statement is part of the Miranda warning that every police officer must give to a criminal suspect who is under arrest. Yet, despite the fact that all of us are at least familiar with the concept of the right to remain silent, many suspects ignore that fact and simply start talking to the police anyway, without first contacting an attorney for advice.
This is almost always a mistake. An experienced criminal defense attorney can not only help you assert and protect your legal rights, but they can also give you a stronger position when dealing with officers and prosecutors. To put it simply, don’t talk to the police when you’re under suspicion of a crime without consulting with an attorney first.
If you still need convincing, here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t talk to the police (even if you are not technically under arrest) without talking to an attorney first:
1. You Always Have the Right to Remain Silent.
The right to remain silent comes from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This has a few different meanings. First and foremost, it means the prosecution cannot force you to testify at your own trial. Of course, you have the right to do so but that is a choice the law protects you in making; your decision not to testify may not be treated as evidence of your guilt or be used against you by the jury in determining guilt.
The right to remain silent also means you do not have to answer any questions from the police related to the investigation of a possible crime. You do not have to tell the police anything. This applies even when you are not in police custody or under arrest. If an officer stops you on the street and asks you about a possible crime, you do not have to answer.
Another key element of the right to remain silent is the ability to stop answering questions at any time. Let’s say you do initially decide to speak with the police and answer some questions. If you start to become uncomfortable at any point during the interrogation, you are free to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights and stop talking so you can talk to an attorney first.
Now, it is important to understand that the Miranda warning is only triggered once you are actually in custody. That is to say, while you always have the right to remain silent, the police are only required to advise you of this right once you are either under arrest or in a similar custodial situation. By “custodial,” we basically mean a scenario where you are not free to leave or walk away from the police.
2. You Always Have the Right to Have an Attorney Present During an Interrogation.
The second part of the Miranda warning explains that you have the right to consult with an attorney before speaking with the police. This right comes from the Sixth Amendment, which provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused has the “right to the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
We often hear that people are reluctant to invoke their right to speak with an attorney because they fear it will just make them “look guilty” to the police. Generally speaking, maybe that is the case, but if you’re being questioned in the first place, then someone (police or investigator who is questioning you) already thinks you’re guilty, so don’t make it worse for yourself. Here’s why:
First, if you are already in custody, it is because the police believe–or at least strongly suspect–that you did something wrong. Not having a lawyer present is unlikely to change that view. Second, an experienced criminal defense attorney understands how the police and the legal system work. The police are counting on the suspect’s ignorance to work in their favor. A lawyer simply helps you level the playing field. Think about it this way—there’s a reason why the police get upset when you invoke your rights to an attorney. It helps you and hurts them.
3. The Police Can Lie to You–But Not Vice Versa.
In every television police drama, you will see police officers resort to intentional lying and trickery to get a defendant to confess. This is not an exaggeration. Police officers are free to lie during an interrogation. Perhaps they told you that they had a witness who saw you commit the crime (even though they don’t). Or maybe they offer you a cup of coffee as a means of getting a DNA sample without your knowledge. Unfortunately, all of this is perfectly legal.
On the flip side, however, if the police think that you are lying to them, you can be arrested and charged with a crime just for that. Under Section 37.08 of the Texas Penal Code, it is a Class B misdemeanor to “knowingly” make a “false statement” to a police officer if it is considered “material to a criminal investigation.” This means that you could technically face 180 days in jail for lying to the police, even if you did not commit the underlying crime that was under investigation.
Given this imbalance in the law, it is again critical to understand and invoke your right to remain silent. Even answering seemingly innocuous questions may simply be a scheme to trick you into saying something that can land you in trouble. A good attorney knows how to help you avoid these pitfalls.
4. Anything You Say Can Be Used Against You.
The Miranda warning also famously advises suspects that anything they say can be used against them in a court of law. The key word here is “anything.” Even before you are placed under arrest, any statement you make is potential evidence. Let’s say a police officer pulls you over to issue a traffic ticket. If during the traffic stop, the officer suspects there may be some more serious crime afoot–drinking and driving, drug possession, etc.–they might start asking questions in hopes that you will say something incriminating.
At this point, you are not in a custodial situation, so the officer does not have to give a Miranda warning before asking these questions. Still, any information you volunteer is potential evidence. So, if the officer asks, “Did you have any drinks tonight?”, and you reply, “a couple of beers,” you have basically just given evidence against yourself. That answer may give the officer probable cause to place you under arrest. Don’t help the police collect evidence to arrest you!
To be clear, when an officer conducts a lawful traffic stop, you do have to tell them your name and provide a copy of your driver’s license upon request. Beyond that, however, you do not have to volunteer any information about where you have been or where you are going. If the officer persists, tell them you will not answer any further questions until you have had an opportunity to speak with a criminal defense lawyer.
5. The Police Will Not “Make You a Deal.”
This is another thing we see in a lot of police dramas: the officer tries to get a suspect to talk by saying, “We’ll put in a good word for you with the DA.” This is just plain nonsense. The police do not have the authority to make any “deals” or decisions regarding the final disposition of a criminal case. The function of the police is to investigate possible crimes and make arrests–period. Once a suspect is caught, the case is handled by the local District Attorney’s office.
Obviously, you can make a deal with the District Attorney. Most criminal cases are, in fact, resolved through some sort of plea bargain. But you are more likely to get a better deal if you work with a qualified criminal defense attorney. As we discussed above, a lawyer understands how the criminal justice system works better than you. A good lawyer knows how cases similar to yours have been disposed of by a plea bargain. This knowledge can give you leverage when dealing with the DA. In some cases, this can mean the difference between jail time and probation, or even having a felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor or in certain unique cases, getting a dismissal.
Conversely, if you have already made incriminating statements to the police without a lawyer present, you may not have much leverage at all. Why would a prosecutor make a deal with a defendant who has made an unequivocal confession after receiving a proper Miranda warning? The less you say upfront, the better your position will be if and when the case makes it to the DA.
Contact a Galveston Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Miranda rights are the foundation of our criminal justice system. No matter what crime a person is suspected of, they have the right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney. You should never feel ashamed or embarrassed to exercise these rights. If you need to speak with a Galveston criminal defense lawyer, contact Mark Diaz today.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.