The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution states that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” For 50 years, police have been required to provide what are called Miranda warnings telling you that you have the right to remain silent and that anything that you say can be used against you in court. They are also required to tell you that you are entitled to a lawyer and that if you cannot afford one, you will be given a lawyer free of charge.
Should I talk to the police?
The right to remain silent only has value if you invoke it. If you hear the warnings and decide to talk anyway, then the police can testify about what you said. The police will not ask you repeatedly whether you want to keep talking. They will certainly never advise you that you are digging your own grave with your statements.
Many people believe that they can talk their way out of trouble. They believe that if they give the police their side of the story, that the police will be convinced that they are innocent. However, many people do not understand much about how the law works. They think that if they tell the police that they were at the scene of the crime but they did not participate in it, or that they were defending themselves, they will be released.
People also do not realize that police interrogators are experienced in getting suspects to confess. They can even lie to the suspect, saying that other defendants have already confessed and implicated you, or that they have found DNA or other physical evidence that proves your guilt. The combination of stress, exhaustion and confusion often results in a defendant’s decision to tell “their side” of the story so that the police can “help you.”
If I do talk to the police, can it hurt me?
If you do talk to the police, it can hurt you in several ways. First, it can be used directly ― the police officer can testify as to what you said and if you made a confession and signed it, or if your interrogation was videotaped, then the jury can see exactly what you said. In addition, the police often use the information indirectly to find physical evidence and other witnesses.
The most important piece of advice that we can give you is not to talk to the police alone under any circumstances. The only way you can protect yourself against aggressive interrogation and having your words twisted is to say respectfully, “I want to speak to a lawyer.” After that, do not say anything more until you have spoken to an experienced criminal attorney. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time trying to help people who thought that they were smarter than the police.