What Should You Do When You’re Under Arrest? Police Interaction, Part XV

What Should You Do When You’re Under Arrest?  Police Interaction, Part XV

By Benjamin A. Tracy, Columbus Criminal Defense Lawyer and Civil Rights Attorney

This is the fifteenth part in a series of posts about what legal obligations you have when you interact with the police.

Situation 15

You have been arrested for robbing a liquor store.  A pair of police officers are driving you back to the police station.  As you sit in the back of the police car, they officers up front begin asking you details about the robbery.

Whether you did it or not, you’re probably going to be tempted to say something in response, especially if it seems like they think you did it.  Should you say anything?

The BEST answer:  Tell them you do not want to answer any questions and you want to speak to an attorney.

The OK answer:  Say nothing.

The WRONG reaction:  Talk to them to try to figure out what information they have on you and/or try to talk your way out of it.

The VERY WRONG reaction:  Confess to robbing the store.

We know from prior blog posts that the golden rule of interacting with the police is that you should never lie but you should also never talk to them at all if you think you are suspected of having committed a crime.  If you follow this rule, as you should, you will already be on the road to the BEST and OK answers in this situation.

The BEST and OK answers both recognize that you should not say anything to the officers however the BEST answer also recognizes that you need to ask for an attorney.  There are two reasons for this:

  • First, the sooner you ask for an attorney, the sooner you will have one, and the sooner he or she can get to work trying to help you get out of custody.
  • Second, if you ask for an attorney, the police officers will not be allowed to question you any more.  This will remove your temptation to talk to them and, in the event that you do somehow end up talking to them, it will be much easier to make sure any statements you make are not able to be used against you in court.

Asking for an attorney is better than indicating that you are choosing to remain silent because, if you tell the police you are choosing to remain silent, the police can wait for a reasonable period (a couple of hours at least), and then come back and start questioning you again.  If you ask for an attorney, the police cannot question you until you have seen that attorney.

The WRONG reaction – talking your way out of it and finding out what the police know – is something folks try all the time and it never works.  While the police can be a good source of information when you are a citizen in need of help, when you are a suspect, things are different.  If you are under arrest and being questioned, the police are under no obligation to tell you the truth and they will lie to you.

One of the most common interrogation techniques, for instance, involves telling the suspect that the police have all the information they need to convict the suspect and the interrogation is actually just an opportunity for the suspect to try and save himself from a more severe punishment by putting his own spin on what happened.  In reality, what is often true is that the police have very little information and are hoping the suspect, in attempting to put his own “spin” on things, will confess to at least part of the crime.

The police will often also pretend they are able to make things easier on a suspect in exchange for cooperation.  This is false.  Police officers do not have the power to offer plea bargains or sentences.  In fact, in Ohio, the last word on sentencing always rests with the judge.  In short, if you are a suspect, do not talk to the police.  They will lie to you, they will try to get you to admit things, and they will not help you, even if you “help” them by confessing, because they are not on your side.  If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer, tell the police your name, date of birth, address, and then do not say another word.

The VERY WRONG reaction – confessing – seems like an obviously dumb thing to do and an easy thing to avoid.  However, police attend very good interrogation schools and they can be really effective at playing on a person’s psychology to get the information they are looking for.  This article mentioned a couple of common tactics already.

Another is getting a suspect to admit just one essential piece of the puzzle and then building on it.  For instance, in a rape case, a police officer might try to get a suspect to admit that he had consensual sex with the victim.  Once the suspect admits that, the police officer will be able to use that admission to build a case for rape.  That is, a case for rape where the victim claims she was raped and the suspect says he never touched her might be weak.

A case where the victim claims she was raped and the suspect admits he had sex with her, is pretty strong.  In short, confessing is something that can happen in an interrogation session even if the person goes in to the session determined not to confess.  Interrogation is scary, it can be lengthy, and it can become difficult to figure what the truth is or who your friends are.  The only sure way to avoid these problems is to demand a lawyer and not say anything else no matter what happens or what the police say.

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If you are under investigation, or have been arrested by any law enforcement agency, feel free to contact one of our experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys, for a free initial consultation about your legal rights and possible defenses.