From 1941 to 1945, the government used posters to remind citizens that careless comments, no matter how innocent or unassuming they may be, could prove useful to the enemy. One World War II poster showed a fish with his mouth open, about to be hooked by an enemy worm. The caption is worth remembering:

“Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he kept his mouth shut.”

Do not let the natural instinct we all have to defend ourselves or to explain our actions get in the way of the right thing to do. If you take away anything from this blog, remember these six words I’ll have my lawyer call you. The best way to stay out of harm’s way is to not talk to the police.

Remember These Numbers: 6, 5, and 4

The job of a defense lawyer is to defend against an action. This is the reason the attorney went to law school, this is do-able. What is not, is having our options limited by any comments that may have been made under the guise of a friendly chat.

When contacted, either in person or by telephone, inform the police you are exercising your rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. Remember, you are protected from unlawful search and self-incrimination, and you have a right to an attorney. Stating you are protecting your rights is not an admission of guilt. When contacted by the police, just say, I’ll have my attorney call you.


Don’t Explain

Here is what is likely to happen if you try to explain anything to the detective:

  • He or she probably is not really listening. They do not have you in a room to hear your side of the story, they are gathering evidence to use against you
  • They likely will not believe a word you are saying. You are where you are because the police have already decided you are guilty

Save your explanation for a defense lawyer—they listen, they understand the predicament you are in, and they can possibly do something about it. The bottom line is if you are tempted to explain anything, stop, take a breath, and say, I’ll have my attorney call you.

Don’t Let Them In

You do not have to let any law enforcement officials into your home without a warrant. When they say, “You probably have nothing to hide, so do you mind if we look around?” Your only answer should be, With all due respect, I do not consent to a search, I’ll have my attorney call you.

You Have to Tell the Truth—But They Are Allowed to Lie

Facial expressions and body language can have persuasive powers in an interrogation room. Police are experts in manipulation. It is their job to attempt to get a suspect to make incriminating statements by any means possible. They can, and will, say anything they feel will make a person confess. If you let them, they will attempt to wear you down with repetitive questions over a long period of time. If you are called in for questioning, don’t feel tempted to talk unless you are arrested (in which case, your statement needs to be, I would like to speak with my lawyer.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Friendly Chat

A police investigator is not your friend and nothing good will come from having a chat with law enforcement. If you have been called in “just to talk”, it means you are, more than likely a suspect. When the police want to talk to you they are looking for potentially incriminating evidence. Don’t panic don’t be in a hurry, and don’t make things easier for them. Make the right decision. Don’t give them any power and don’t make things easy for them.

Detectives and state investigators are very good at what they do. They are trained in investigative techniques that are meant to elicit a confession. They do not have a suspect’s best interest in mind when they:

  • Lie about having evidence against you
  • Get your DNA without consent
  • Tell you they have an eyewitness

Do not believe it when they imply that refusing to cooperate by not answering questions can be damaging to your case. Saying, I’ll have my lawyer contact you is not, in any way, obstruction of justice. What you can believe is, a defense lawyer:

  • Understands there is almost always a good defense strategy
  • Is a trained and experienced negotiator
  • Has skills that are worth the price of freedom.

Reduce Your Exposure to Suspicion

Don’t assume by not speaking to the police you are casting more suspicion on yourself – there are infinite numbers of perfectly legal reasons why someone would not want to talk to the police. That being said, if you do find yourself face-to-face with police detectives there are things you can do to diffuse a potential problem:

  • Always keep your hands in plain sight
  • Ask if you are free to leave
  • Be polite and respectful
  • Ask if you are free to leave
  • Ask why they are questioning you
  • Ask if you are free to leave

Keep in mind, that if you do not ask if you are free to go, the police can assume you want to stay.

Coercive Interrogations and False Confessions

A widely used method of interrogation is the controversial Reid Technique. This is more than standard behavioral analysis, it is a method that assumes guilt and goes on from there to coerce a confession of guilt.

Data from the 2017 Caseload Statistics Report of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania shows, in a large percentage of criminal cases, the defendants accepted a guilty plea.

  • There were 175,085 criminal cases processed in 2017
  • 68 percent took a guilty plea
  • 18.3 percent Diversionary disposition
  • 6.1 percent were dismissed or withdrawn
  • 5.1 percent were inactive
  • 1.8 percent went to non-jury trial
  • 1.1 percent went to a jury trial

According to an article in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, “The Reid Interrogation technique has been the dominant method used by police in the United States and Canada to interview criminal suspects. This method is commercially marketed to police departments and other law enforcement agencies with the promise that 80 percent of those interrogated will confess. However, there is growing evidence that the Reid technique results in a significant number of false confessions, especially among the young, the mentally impaired, and those of low intelligence.”

Contact a criminal defense lawyer if you have questions about dealing with possible law enforcement interrogations.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.