If you have never been involved in a police investigation it can be a frightening experience the first time around. Even if you are a veteran of police encounters each one is different. There are, however, a few simple rules that everyone should follow when it comes to encounters with law enforcement. One of those rules is: do not cooperate with the police without an attorney present.
In order to understand why this rule was so important you must first understand what can happen if you fail to follow the rule. Even if you have never even been pulled over for a speeding ticket, if you have ever turned on a television in America you probably know what your Miranda rights are. Your Miranda rights begin with “you have the right to remain silent,” followed by “anything you say can and will be used against you and a court of law.” Law enforcement officers are required to inform you of these rights any time you are taken into custody; however, your right to remain silent exists whether you have been taken into custody or not. Your right to remain silent does you no good if you do not assert that right. Let’s not forget the second part of the warning which informs you that anything you say can and will be used against you in court of law.
If the police show up at the scene of a motor vehicle collision and ask you your name and address, of course you should answer. If the police show up at your door and start asking you questions, chances are the questions relate to an ongoing criminal investigation. Even knowing that the right to remain silent exists, people often make the mistake of answering questions when asked by the police officer who shows up at the door. People do this for a variety of reasons, including:
- Fear of not cooperating
- The belief that they have done nothing wrong
- The hope that by cooperating the police will leave them alone
- Misunderstanding the situation
While fear is certainly understandable, try to remember that asking to consult with a lawyer before answering any questions is your right. Moreover, as soon as you start cooperating with the police the odds increase that they will continue to seek your cooperation instead of leaving you alone. Finally, whether you have actually done something wrong or not is essentially immaterial at the investigation stage of a crime. Sadly, prisons are full of people who did not commit a crime yet were convicted anyway.
The rule of thumb here should be that if the police want to talk to you about anything more complicated than a traffic ticket or a crash you should consult with an attorney. There are no “do overs” when it comes to police questioning and anything you say could be misconstrued and used against you later on in a prosecution. If you are, indeed, innocent of all criminal activity, then let your lawyer be the filter for communications between you and law enforcement to ensure that you do not end up as yet another prisoner claiming innocence.