What should you do if detectives want to question you about a crime?
Very often we are asked by someone whether or not they should speak to police officers or detectives who are asking to question them regarding a crime. More often, however, we are faced with a client who has already made the decision to speak to officers, and a statement is already part of the case the prosecutor has built against them. Most people are aware that they have the right to remain silent, and anything they say can be used against them. However, most people who have never been arrested worry that remaining silent or exercising their right to an attorney makes them look guilty. What I usually tell a client or potential client who is being contacted by officers for an interview is that if the officers are trying to talk to you, they already have a reason to believe you committed a crime. At that point, there is likely nothing you can say to change their opinion. Instead, you risk talking to them and giving them more evidence against you.
Often times officers or detectives will let you know that a crime has occurred and they just want your side of the story. The same goes for this tactic though. If they are talking to you as anything other than you being an uninvolved percipient witness, they already believe you are guilty, and quite possibly already have enough evidence to arrest you. If they don’t have enough evidence for an arrest, whether or not they believe you are guilty is irrelevant. At that point, speaking to the police will only possibly give them just what they needed to get an arrest warrant. Detectives are working to build a case against you for the district attorney to prosecute. There is unlikely anything you can say that will help you, but so much you can say to hurt yourself, even if you did nothing wrong. Detectives are trained interrogators. They are trained in the skills to make people confess, often times even getting confessions from people who did nothing.
Our advice to clients who ask if they should allow the police to interview them is usually that it is up to them, but we advise against it. More often than not, our role pre-arrest is speaking to detectives to inform them our client will not sit through an interview, trying to find out what information or evidence they have against our client, and speaking to the district attorney to attempt to work something out as early as possible.
If you are considering allowing an officer or detective to interview you, you will likely not learn anything about the charges or accusations. They are trained in getting information from you, and only giving the necessary information to get you to talk. Additionally, if detectives are overly concerned about getting a statement from you, it is quite possible that it is only because they do not have enough evidence to have you charged with a crime. Again, at this point, you can only hurt yourself by speaking with a detective.
Detectives are basically allowed to say anything they feel necessary to get a suspect to talk. They may lie about witness statements, video surveillance, recordings, fingerprints, DNA, or any other evidence to scare you into telling “your side of the story”.
The most disturbing scenario this occurs in is with children. When a child has been accused of a crime the detectives will use many of the same tactics they use on adults to get a child to confess. They will often tell the child that they already know what they did, they have video of it, other people have told them, etc. They also use strategies such as telling the child that a parent (or other adult the child trusts) already told the officers what they did, so the child is calling the parent a liar if they don’t admit to it. Even when a child confesses under these circumstances, it can be incredibly damaging to the defense of their case. When we have parents contacting us to ask whether or not they should allow a detective to interview their child, we always advise them not to. We tell them the same reason as stated above: if the detective wants to speak to your child, they likely already have enough evidence to arrest, and all they are looking for is a confession to seal the deal.
When detectives are investigating crimes, they are looking to build a case for the district attorney. The more incriminating evidence they find, the higher likelihood of a conviction. The detectives are not really concerned with hearing your side of the story, as they may tell you.
Nothing in this is to imply that police officers and detectives are not doing an incredibly important and necessary job. Their investigations and interviews are helpful in solving crimes and having dangerous people arrested. However, everyone has a constitutional right to remain silent, and should exercise it. You are under no obligation ever to help anyone build a case against you. Your Fifth Amendment rights are some of your most important, and should be respected. Clients often worry that they will be arrested because they refused to meet with a detective. We can assure that is very likely not the case. If you are a suspect of a crime and give a statement, it will do one of two things: it will hurt you or it will do nothing. It will likely never help you. With those odds, the wisest thing to do is not talk.
The same is true if you are asked to take a lie detector test. While the results are inadmissible in court, they can be used to make a determination you should be arrested. You should never trust the results of a machine to determine if you are going to be arrested. You may think that because you didn’t do anything you should take the test to make it all go away, but the fact that you are being asked to take a test means there is already enough evidence to believe you committed a crime, and you are likely going to be arrested regardless of the test results.
If you are a suspect of a crime and have detectives asking to speak with you, you should contact an attorney immediately to help you through the process. While no attorney can stop you from being arrested or charged, it is always best to have someone on board early on to advise you of your rights, tell you what you should do, and get working right away if you are in fact arrested.