Certified Criminal Law Specialist in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ

Why should I refuse to speak to the police if questioned?


You have all watched television and heard your rights….  “The right to remain silent and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law”.  If you just follow one suggestion, you can help yourself more than any skilled attorney, that is, shut up!  The best evidence the police gather are your statements.  Many times the police do not have a case against you until you open your mouth.  So I have the following recommendations.

First, never talk to the police, especially if you are innocent of a crime.  If you are guilty, talking to the police will get you in more trouble.  If you are innocent, talking to the police could get you arrested anyway.  It does happen.  I have had clients get arrested for trying to cover for someone else, for lying to a police officer and for simply sounding scared and guilty.  Later, after spending some jail time, you are released but, you could have avoided arrest by simply saying nothing.

Second, you have a right, yes, a Constitutional right to remain silent.  Use your right.  The police cannot use your silence against you.  I have clients who are afraid that by saying nothing they look guilty.  They will say, “I have nothing to hide”.  Fine.  But still remain silent.  Even at trial, the State cannot use your silence against you.  The State prosecutor cannot tell the jury that you invoked your rights and that you refused to answer any questions.

I was a former prosecutor.  At times, I was called upon to review the conduct of police officers who were accused of committing a crime.  Often, the accusation was made by a drunk citizen who was upset with the police officer who arrested the citizen for good cause.  Guess what?  I cannot recall ever reviewing a case where the office did NOT invoke his rights.  Meaning, in every case, the officer refused to answer questions without his lawyer being present, even in cases where it was clear the citizen was not telling the truth.  Now why do you suppose the officer elected to have an attorney?  The answer is that the officer had seen firsthand how stupid it is to speak without first consulting a lawyer.  So ask for your lawyer.  Keep asking for your lawyer at every opportunity.

You may have a conscience.  You may have been brought up to do the right thing and admit when you are wrong.  The police are experts in interrogation.  The police will use your conscience against you.  You will be led to believe that “honesty is the best policy”.  Get if off your conscience the police will suggest to you.  You may be led to believe things will go better for you later if you admit your wrongdoing.  This is almost always false.  All you have accomplished is making a stronger case for the State prosecutor.  All you have done is put your entire life in the hands of a young prosecutor who does not see your confession as an act of a good person.  You have just made the biggest mistake of your life.

I have represented career criminals.  Yes, people who do not have 9 to 5 jobs.  What do you think they do?  They invoke all their rights and remain silent. They ask for a lawyer.  I have represented good, honest folks who may have slipped up and made a mistake.  The good and honest person then talks to the police and does the right thing.  Guess who gets a worse outcome?  If you guessed the good and honest person, you are correct.  You see, by cooperating with the police, the good and honest person made things worse for himself.  He just made it very difficult for his lawyer to help him.  The career criminal, on the other hand, kept his mouth shut and helped his lawyer defend him later.

If you want to cooperate, if you want to speak to the police, at least wait until you have a lawyer.  Your lawyer can protect your rights and help you obtain a fair outcome.  If the police are truly seeking justice, the police will not mind if you get a lawyer first.

At the end, the police may ask you, “Do you understand your rights…?”  If you truly understand your rights, you will ask for a lawyer and keep your mouth shut.

[Robert J. Campos is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a criminal law specialist.  His analysis of the law is based on Arizona law and the United States Constitution.  This article is for general information only.]

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