As a nice compliment to yesterday’s post about violent police raids becoming more common, I stumbled across a youtube video in which a criminal defense attorney gives a lecture on why you should never talk to the police, whether innocent or guilty. I decided it would be nice to highlight some of the lecture, and provide readers with some tools to keep themselves out of trouble. With police becoming ever more aggressive (and in my opinion sketchy) it is good to know your rights, and how to best exercise those rights.
Here’s how the lecture begins with the attorney speaking:
God bless America, God bless the Bill of Rights, and thank God for the Fifth amendment. I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of the Fifth amendment and I’m proud to admit on camera and on the internet that I will never talk to any police officer under any circumstances…
Most of what the talk surrounds is the Fifth amendment which guarantees that “No person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. This is why you hear of people pleading the Fifth, or invoking their Fifth amendment right not to incriminate themselves. Succinctly, the attorney’s advice is to never talk to the police under any circumstances because it cannot help you, it can only hurt you, even if you are completely innocent. In fact the federal government has lost exact count of how many criminal laws exist, so something you say to police can be fit into one of those crimes, if you do not know exactly what the police wish to interview you for (the police use the term interview because jury’s like the sound of it better than interrogation).
People instinctively want to talk to police, especially if they are innocent in order to exonerate themselves. But under the rules of evidence, everything you tell the police can be used against you, but it cannot be used for you because the prosecutor will object to it as hearsay, and the judge will agree. But even telling the truth about an alibi can get you in hot water if there is a witness that, even mistakenly, saw you near the scene of a crime. Then there is a police officer who you “lied” to who will testify against you, and a witness who proves that your alibi is a “lie”. Had you never told the police an alibi, there would be little use for the witness, other than you being in the general area, but it would not make you look guilty because you did not “lie” to the police about your where-abouts.
Furthermore, people tend to let at least one small lie slip in an effort to prove they are innocent. But even an innocent man can be caste as guilty if anything he said to police can be proven to be a lie: “I wasn’t even in town that night”. But if you were, and just let that slip, although not guilty of the crime in question, you will appear guilty to a jury. Even if nothing said was a lie, there can be things said in an interview that when taken out of context could be called a motive. “Sure I never liked the guy, but who did?”. There’s the motive. You were in the area. That spells trouble. Don’t say anything. And don’t let the police scare you either; the police officer who spoke after the lawyer in the video stated in no uncertain terms, “We are allowed to lie in interviews…”.
People sometimes fill in details on our own. Imagine a police officer saying that people were murdered “gangland style”. Later in the interview you say, “I never shot anyone”. Well the police never mentioned shooting, your brain filled that part in after hearing it was a “gangland style” execution. Now somehow you knew how they were murdered, without ever being told. Police also have interrogation tricks to help them get what they want. The officer in the video says he will bring a tape recorder to an interview, even though the interview is already being recorded on camera and microphone. This is because he will at some point in the interview turn off the tape recording and tell the interviewee he is off the record. Remember the officers’ words: “…off the record. It’s like a unicorn, there’s no such thing”.
The Fifth amendment is misunderstood by many. In a conversation with friends last week it was clear that a few of them took the use of the Fifth amendment–the right not to incriminate yourself–during a trial as pointing towards guilt. I said that the jury is not allowed to consider the use of the Fifth amendment in deciding whether someone is guilty or not, but my friends remained skeptical that a jury wouldn’t subconsciously at least be influenced by the decision to use the Fifth. Never-the-less, the Fifth amendment is certainly a useful tool for innocent people to not incriminate themselves, and to keep the police from using just a piece of what you tell them to insinuate guilt. A slide during the presentation read as follows:
The Point of the Fifth Amendment
- Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17, 20 (2001) (Internal citations and punctuation omitted)
- One of the Fifth amendment’s basic functions is to protect innocent men who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances. Truthful responses of an innocent witness, as well as those of a wrongdoer may provide the government with incriminating evidence from the speakers own mouth.
After the lawyer gave his talk, he allowed a police officer who had been invited to the lecture to respond, not knowing if the officer would agree or disagree with what he had presented. The officer agreed and said everything the lawyer had stated was in fact true. To paraphrase the officer, if I follow a car for a long enough period of time, they will eventually break the law and I will have a completely justified reason for pulling them over. We have all put up with this while driving for some time, but the problem becomes when our day to day lives are the same, and the government is following us with, say, drones. That wheelbarrow in your backyard filled with water just violated EPA regulations about providing a nursery for mosquitos, and dumping it out destroyed a wet land. But leaving it there in the first place was illegal collection of water that belonged to the state and should have been allowed to sink into the water table, and dumping it out means the illegal spread of runoff from your yard. There are enough laws in the U.S. so that we are all guilty of something.
In the words of the attorney, “If it’s the truth, great, we’ll tell the jury all about it… so keep your mouth shut, let’s take the Fifth, you’ll be glad that you did. God bless America, God bless the Bill of Rights, and the geniuses who bequeathed it to us”.
If you have time you can watch the entire video, which is about 50 minutes. It is full of useful information on avoiding ending up on the wrong side of the law, whether innocent or caught up in a victimless crime.