Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't Talk to Cops

Unless you are the victim of a crime and are calling police to report it, you shouldn't ever talk to the police. Nothing good can ever come of it. After seeing what has happened in dozens of criminal cases, I can state first-hand - there is no benefit whatsoever in talking to the cops. Never. Regardless of innocence or guilt. Regardless of anything.

That's what I tell every friend I have - be polite, but never talk to them beyond answering basic questions, such as giving your identity (which is required in many jurisdictions by statute). Beyond that, it is best not to say anything except that you don't consent to any searches and asking if you are free to go.

But don't take my word for it. From reading of yet another case of testilying, I came across this video by a law professor and he is far more convincing on this topic than I ever could be:

And here's Part II (a cop talking after the professor saying the same thing):

Finally, here's a (long) video about how to deal with cops:

(One final comment: The only thing I would add to the post I linked to about LA Cops lying is that, contrary to the thread, it really isn't an LA problem - it is a general problem with the police. Not that all police lie, but that this sort of thing is not particularly unique to LA.)


Larry Hamelin said...

There are times you're legally obligated to talk to the police, no?

Any guidelines?

DBB said...

As far as I know, the only information you are generally legally required to give is your name (and ID if you have it) and, if you are operating some sort of vehicle, your license and registration information. That's pretty much it.

(Or other relevant licenses, such as if you have a gun, for instance - in fact, in that case, if you have a gun with you, I think you are required to state that to a police officer up front in many jurisdictions).

Beyond that, you follow instructions, act polite (but still do not answer questions - as one of the video suggests, best to respond to questions with your own questions such as "Am I free to go?") You are not required to answer questions by police beyond the basic identification and licenses above. Anything else you say can be used against you, no matter how innocuous. The first video has some interesting examples of that.

Thinking ahead to court (if it even comes to that) you want the only thing a police officer can testify to is whatever they personally witnessed you do, and that's it. I also liked the suggestion in the last video that if you are asked to get out of the car on a traffic stop, when you step out of the car, close all the doors and lock them. If the officer asks why you did that, just say "habit." Then they have less excuse (or room) to get into the car and snoop around.

DBB said...

I should mention that the bit about the gun was relevant if you have a license to own the gun - in the event that you have a gun illegally, you are under no obligation to mention it - that would just incriminate you. The statement up front is something you need to do to validate the license, basically - so if you were arrested, they couldn't charge you for having an unlicensed gun (or violating the part of the statute that requires you to state when you have a licensed gun on you). If the gun is unlicensed, you're just plain in trouble anyway, so better not to admit it or give them the opportunity to find it.

Of course, even in the licensed case, with no basis to search you (and without your consent) unless the gun is sitting out or is on your person they'd never be able to find it anyway short of arresting you (at which point they can search your car).

Again, this varies by jurisdiction, so I really couldn't tell you exactly what the requirements are, but the general rule still applies - don't talk to the cops. And if you carry a gun, be aware of all the regulations you have to follow for where you are.

Larry Hamelin said...

I'm talking about when the police are investigating a crime, which you are clearly not a party to, but about which you have relevant information, such as when you are a witness to a crime.

Wouldn't refusing to give information in such circumstances be obstruction of justice? Or does obstruction cover only actually lying to the police?

(I'm coming up hard against the limits of my L&O JD.)

DBB said...

You are never obligated to talk to the police as part of an investigation. It doesn't matter whether you are the target of the investigation or not.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the police won't lie to you and tell you you have to cooperate or that they won't threaten you. But the threats are hollow. And if you find what they say annoying, you can always tell them you refuse to speak and that they should contact your lawyer. Then they can't question you anymore. (And if they do, and it is in custody questioning, anything you say is inadmissible because then they will have violated your right to an attorney - though you can waive it if you start talking on your own, and in another cruel twist, while it isn't normally admissible, it can be used to impeach you if you testified, so in the end, the best thing you can do is just not say anything).

Miranda didn't create the right to remain silent, it just informed people about it.

Larry Hamelin said...

Good to know.

'Tis a pity, you know, because there really are criminals out there, and it would be nice to be able to trust the police, at least a little.

Mr. 618 said...

I ran across your blog following a link from Badtux the Snarky Penguin, linking to this post.

As a former cop, I can tell you what the detective says in his lecture is true - it's all stuff we were taught in the police academy (and there were lots of other "tricks" the talk didn't mention).

One thing to remember, though, is that just as most people -- especially the bad guys -- are stupid, the cops are not supermen. There are no cops I'm aware of who are members of Mensa. We've been trained in the tricks of our trade, just as plumbers are trained in making good solder joints, and just as lawyers are trained in finding loopholes.

Do not ever volunteer anything to the police. The lawyer in the video said it, the cop said it, you said it, Badtux said it, and I say it (and BT and I don't often agree on legal issues).

BTW, I'm adding you to my blogroll. Stop by and visit sometime.

DBB said...

BB - Yes, it is unfortunate - but that is the way things are.

Look at the Ramseys - only just now are they finally "cleared" by the authorities, who for years and years accused them of killing their daughter. Which makes you feel cautious about talking to the police even if it is your own loved one who was the victim - which I find terribly sad.

Mr 618 - I did take a look at your site - looks like you used to live in my neck of the woords... What is the 618 for, btw?

Mr. 618 said...

We used to live in the greater Ann Arbor area, but moved out to Maine when the local economy started to really go down the drain.

The 618 is from an old email address... doesn't really have any great significance. Jurassic Pork apparently thought it was the number of rants on my blog (which I suppose was logical, given my proclivity to rant and rave). I simply couldn't come up with a really catchy handle like Badtux the Snarky Penguin, or Disgusted Beyond Belief, or Jesus' General or anything.

stranger said...

How are DEA allowed to pay informers ? They make them make a buy and flip their buyer . The informant is not arrested . How is this possible ?

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