Lawyers, defenders of civil liberties, and rational critical thinkers everywhere will advise you to avoid talking to the police. This is in spite of the fact that police officers are often described or depicted as honest people who only seek fair justice.
Why is this the case? And are there any circumstances in which you should talk to the police?
The Better Answer: Get a Lawyer
If the police have arrested or detained you, and you’re not supposed to talk to them, what exactly are you supposed to do?
Essentially, you need to do two things.
First, you need to remain silent. You have a legal right to remain silent, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so, even if police officers are pressuring you to answer questions. If you’re being interrogated, you might feel an urge to give responses, feeling confident that you can state the plain truth simply and accurately, but it’s almost always better to just keep your mouth shut.
Second, you need to get a criminal defense lawyer. Your criminal defense lawyer will help you understand your situation, monitor the police so they remain accountable for their actions, and provide you with advice you can use to get the best possible outcome, given this situation. Until your lawyer arrives and is ready to help you, you need to keep silent.
Why Talking to the Police Is a Bad Idea
Why is talking to the police such a bad idea in the first place?
- You don’t understand the law. First, you need to acknowledge that you don’t understand the law. There may be certain aspects of the law that you understand, such as your right to remain silent or the crime you’re being charged with, but you don’t understand the full law or the nuances of the law the way a lawyer will. Without this knowledge, any information you provide to police officers can and will be used against you, as was suggested in the reading of your Miranda rights (assuming you got one).
- The police will lie to you and manipulate you. Contrary to public assumptions, police officers can lie to you – and they probably will. In fact, lying and manipulation are well-known techniques in the law enforcement world, designed to elicit confessions out of people or get them to cooperate in difficult circumstances. If you assume that police officers are all upstanding people who are universally honest, you’ll end up making yourself an easy mark.
- Innocent people can end up in jail. This is an important one: even if you’re completely innocent of the crime of which you’re being accused, you can still end up in jail. You might end up accidentally incriminating yourself or possibly giving police officers a different reason to arrest you if you start talking without thinking through what you’re saying. There are probably thousands of innocent people in jail right now who might have had a different fate if they had just remained quiet and talked to a lawyer.
- Guilty people can end up with worse outcomes. Similarly, if you’re guilty of the crime, you can end up with a worse outcome by talking. Don’t give the police any more information than they require, as they can use this additional information against you. Wait to strategize with your lawyer before providing any answers.
- The police aren’t in a position to offer deals. Oftentimes, police officers will suggest they can offer you leniency or cut you a deal in exchange for a confession or admissions to key actions. However, the police aren’t in a position to offer these kinds of deals. Don’t be lured in by the promise of a reduced sentence, as this is likely just another lie to get you to cooperate.
- You might get some details wrong. You might believe that you can tell your story completely accurately and clear this confusion up completely, but this probably isn’t the case. Memory is fallible, and even if your memory happens to be perfect, you may make a technical error in relaying that memory verbally. If you get any details wrong, it could increase police suspicion or provide them with evidence they can use against you. In some cases, slipping up and revealing unnecessary details could even incriminate you for a different crime. Mistakes happen even to the smartest and most thoughtful people, so never assume you can tell your story perfectly.
- The police aren’t there to help you. If there’s a bottom line, it’s this: the police aren’t there to help you. They aren’t necessarily “bad guys,” but they’re certainly not looking out for your best interests. They may say that they’re genuinely trying to help you or imply it through their tone and actions, but you have to remember that this isn’t the case. The police want a conviction.
When Can You/Should You Talk to the Police?
There are some limited circumstances in which you are legally required to talk to the police. For example, depending on where you live, you may be required to provide a police officer with your name, address, and/or date of birth if asked for it. You may also be required to comply with certain police requests, such as handing over your driver’s license if you’re pulled over. These are exceptions to the rule that you shouldn’t talk to the police. Be sure to review laws in your area to know what you’re legally required to do.
You should also feel free to talk to police officers when you’re not in a compromising situation (e.g., you’re not being arrested, detained, or formally questioned). There’s nothing wrong with making small talk with an officer who happens to be walking by – but you should still be careful what you disclose.
Police officers serve an essential function. But because they’re more interested in conviction than absolute truth, and because they’ll willingly lie to you and manipulate you, you should never talk to the police without a lawyer at your side.