Like I always say, every situation and case is different, so there’s no absolute “right” way to answer this question. However, if you’re being asked to conduct an interview with law enforcement, there are a few things you should know.
Take the Fifth
First, understand that you have the right to “take the fifth,” a phrase that refers to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Boiled down to its essence, this amendment states that when you are arrested or being questioned by the authorities, you are not obligated to answer any questions that may incriminate you. This is your “right to remain silent,” and many attorneys will tell you to do just that if and when law enforcement wants to question you.
It can be a tricky situation. If you choose to speak to law enforcement, the officers will interpret your responses — and their interpretation may not be favorable to you, or even be quite different than what you meant to say. This is less of an issue these days now that body cams are more common and provide a record of what you did or didn’t say.
If you choose to take the fifth and “lawyer up,” that is, have an attorney present when you speak to law enforcement, law enforcement. may interpret this move as the act of a guilty party. The thinking is, why would you need a lawyer if you’re innocent?
There is no “right” answer, but there are some responses that I recommend to my clients.
What to do When Police Question You
To protect yourself when you are questioned by police, I recommend that you consider saying one of the following things:
“My lawyer has told me that I should exercise my Fifth Amendment right and not talk to you.”
Doing this will prevent you from giving statements that may be incriminating, without making it seem like you’re lawyering up because you’re guilty. You might even say,
“I’d love to talk to you, but my lawyer said I shouldn’t.”
Once again, there’s no way to be certain that the police won’t interpret that tactic as the strategic move of a guilty party, but at least you avoid making an incriminating statement.
How to Make a Statement to the Police
If you feel comfortable that you didn’t do anything wrong, you should give a statement, but take care when you do so. Most importantly, listen closely to every question posed and make 100% sure that you understand it completely. If you don’t understand the question, you may give the wrong answer.
When you speak with the police, avoid developing what I call “diarrhea of the mouth.” This happens when people get flustered and start to talk too much and rationalize things they did, sharing too much information and making you look like you’re trying to defend yourself. It’s only natural to feel nervous when police are questioning you, so take care to be precise when you answer.
If they ask you a question like, “What time is it?” All you have to do is tell them the time… not the make, model and origin of your watch! Answer each question to the best of your knowledge without sharing hearsay. Anytime you feel uncomfortable, you have a right to say, “Okay, now I want to speak with my attorney.” If you answer the question, answer the exact question you are asked. Nothing more; nothing less.
Play it Safe and Wait for Your Attorney
Given my druthers, I’d rather have my client not speak with the police, or wait until I am present before talking to them. But if you’re planning to meet with police anyway, follow the instructions above.
Have you been asked to sit down with law enforcement? It’s always better to have an attorney on your side to guide you through this process. Call our office today at 303-449-1873 for a complimentary consultation.