Three dumb things people say to the police… all the time.

So, you’re sitting in my office and you’re mad that you got a ticket or were arrested for DUI or are charged with murder. You’re going to fight this thing all the way. You’re mad.  They never read your your rights.  They never showed you the radar.  If they didn’t do that, you must be “not” guilty, right?

For whatever reason, there seem to be a large number of people who, between the time they’ve last talked to the cops and the time they walk into my door, have convinced themselves they’re not guilty.  That’s just fine.  If you want to take the best shot at winning at trial, though, there are some things you probably said to the police that you shouldn’t have.  Those things are going to make it really hard for a judge or jury to see just how not guilty you really are:

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When the police first pulled you over or started to talk to you: “Yes”.

Do you know how fast you were going? “Yes.”  Do you know why we’re at your house with this warrant looking for a dead body? “Yes.” Do you have any idea why the neighbor says you were swimming naked in his pool at night and creeping out the entire neighborhood? “Yes.”

When the police ask those initial questions, they obviously know something. They’re not going to tell you what it is, but they’re going to try to get you to talk about it. After all, you may “know things only the killer would know.”  If you answer “yes” to any of these initial questions, it’s going to start a dialogue- a dialogue that’s only going to get harder to stop.

Probably the only worse answer than “yes” would be to lie.  Like, telling an officer at a traffic stop that you were going 47 when his radar says you were going 89.  Lies are either going to frustrate the officer or (in a more serious case) make you look even more guilty when you’re busted.

A better thing might be to say, “I’d like to talk to a lawyer before I answer any of your questions.”  Nobody seems to ever believe me on that, though. It’s sort-of a free country, I suppose.  You go ahead and do what you want.

When they want to search: “Yes”

When it comes to car searches, this is almost always a follow-up to “do you have anything you shouldn’t in the car?”  Of course, if that’s what happened you must have skipped the section above and either lied (hoping he’s not smart enough to know all the drugs are “hidden” in the trunk of your Chevy Vega), or answered “yes”.

So, now he wants to take a look. He’s asking you, and you don’t want to “look guilty” so you’re going to let him search.

Look, I know it seems a bit extreme, but no police officer is ever searching my car, house, body or other property with my consent. I have nothing to hide- just like you (except for those apples you’re illegally smuggling into Canada), but my stuff is nobody’s business and I don’t care how they think that makes me look.  I’d be somewhat offended if they even asked.

Getting sucked into “not wanting to look guilty” is the best way to look absolutely guilty. Nothing says “this guy is probably guilty” like the weed the cop found in your pocket or the headless corpse in your crawl space.

If they ever ask to search, you can always tell them you’d like to talk to a lawyer about it first. Just saying.

When the police are interrogating you: “Yes”

You’re in some small room at the police station. The room is simple, without decor or anything but a small table and some chairs.  There’s one cop- maybe two.  They’ve read you your rights, and they’re asking you questions.  They want to know how long you had “beef” with the guy who was just found stuffed in the back of a burned-out AMC Gremlin down by the river.  “You’ve hated this guy since before that day at the Bieber concert, right?” They ask.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nq3FHm6DZ0

Wait a minute. You’re in custody.  They read you your rights. They just told you that you had a right to an attorney.  They told you that they’d get you one before any questioning.

Now you’e sitting there, without having talked to a lawyer, and you’re about to agree that you didn’t like some guy that they found dead?

Brilliant idea, Einstein.  Especially if you didn’t kill the guy (or if you’re going to tell your lawyer you didn’t, anyway).

Just another crazy thought, but if you’re planning to contest the charges and try to avoid spending the rest of your life in prison, it might make sense to talk to a lawyer first. Probably.

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There you have it. You’re in my office. You want to fight this to the end. You’re mad that your rights have been violated. They can’t prove this case… except, of course, for the fact that you admit you knew why they were looking at you, let them search wherever they wanted and confessed after they read you your rights.

Can’t wait for your trial.

Maybe it wasn’t a lucky guess…

Remember my hypothetical speeding trial?  Where I walked you though a few of the questions you might expect to hear from a seasoned traffic prosecutor?  I joked that I knew what the cops were going to say, because I had “the magic.

I brought that up in explaining the type of thing you could consider saying when the lawman pulled you over.  See, if he asks whether or not you know why he pulled you over and you tell him that you were “speeding” he will call that an “admission.”  I’m not a fan of admissions.  I just came across a police officer’s take on what to tell the cop who pulled you over.  Guess what he says?

When asked if you know why the police pulled you over, he says to just say “no.” Crazy how that works. Maybe criminal defense attorneys and the police aren’t so different?

That’s what I thought, anyway, until I got to the part about asking the officer to cut you some slack and let it slide.  I’d personally probably rather take the ticket than beg for a favor.  I’m not saying you have to be that stubborn.  I’m just saying that I am.

Top Three Signs You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney

In God we trust… all others are suspects.

How do you know you need to call some guy like me?  Sounds simple enough, right?  If you’ve ever asked the question (even quietly in your own head), that’s a good thing.  If you’re operating under the assumption that you’ll never need the advice of a criminal defense attorney, you might want to check that.

It’s not just the “accused” who could benefit from my advice.  I’ve also represented witnesses and even people that aren’t related to a crime in any way.  You’d think witnesses not involved in crimes would have nothing to worry about.  Some (certainly not all) of those trained police investigators have a knack for making anybody they talk to uncomfortable, though.  All I’m saying is that somebody once coined the phrase, “In God we trust… all others are considered suspects” and it wasn’t a guy like me.

I know that there’s a line of thinking that calling an attorney makes you look guilty.  I’ve talked a little bit before about how refusing to submit to whatever the police want will make you look guilty.  If you’re so caught up in not “looking” guilty to the police, then you can probably stop reading.  I’m more worried about looking guilty to a judge or jury.  The police can think what they want… they probably already do.

Easy enough for me to say, right?  I’m on the “giving” end of the advice, not on the “is it panic time… feels like panic time… what do I do now?” end of things.  I’ve actually been on both, though.  I guess you could paraphrase Cy Sperling’s famous “Hair Club for Men” commercials, and say I’m not only a criminal defense lawyer- I’m also a client.

Now you’re curious about my arrest, right?  Sadly (or not), I was never arrested. In January of 2007, however, I stepped out of the office for lunch.  I returned no more than 30 minutes later.  When I did, the office building was up in smoke and the fire department was busting through the windows.

Turns out that the building caught a case of the burndown while I was eating.  Obviously the police came to ask questions.  Nothing major- the building had been having serious electrical problems and there was an electrician there the day before.  The fire was in the basement where the electrical stuff was housed.

I told them where I was.  Then the fire marshal showed up.  He asked some questions.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in the hours that subsequently passed, more investigators showed up (including the ATF and their super-sniffing dog).  At this point, the questioning starts getting a little more intense, they’re not letting us see what they’re removing from the building, and they’re starting to ask a lot of the same stuff over and over.   I don’t have much patience for that- neither did the attorney I worked with at the time.  So we basically told them we were done with the questions.  Then I called a couple of criminal defense attorneys I know.

Did I burn down the building? Absolutely not. I was stuffing my face at Quiznos at the time.  Did I look guilty calling a lawyer?  I don’t care. I did care about knowing I had good, objective advice if I needed it.  I share this little anecdote only to demonstrate that there are a couple of sure-fire ways to tell if you should call a criminal defense lawyer.  Whether or not you are guilty doesn’t make a difference.

The following are not all of the signs- far from it, actually.  They are simply three of the largest “red flags”.  If you see any of them, you should be contacting an attorney right away.

Without further interruption here are three of the biggest signs that you need a criminal defense lawyer:

1. The police want to talk to you at the station.

You’ve been talking to the police (which, really, means you haven’t been reading up on things).  Now they’re asking you to come to the police station and talk to them there.  They’ll even give you a ride in the back of their squad car.  They might even tell you that you’re not under arrest.  Why not, right?  What could it hurt?

The reality is that they’re taking you there because it’s a much more controlled environment.  Police “interview” rooms and process are not only controlled, they’re the subject of countless hours and years of psychological research.  I can already tell you what that room is going to look like.  Watch police interrogations on youtube, and look at the lack of variety in the way the rooms are setup.  Think that’s an accident?

They want you in their controlled world because they’re not getting something out of you that they think they already should have– even if you are not the suspect.  They are suspicious of what you are saying.  You have an absolute right to have an attorney present for advice when they speak to you. More importantly, you have a right to that advice before you even walk in.  If they want to talk to you at the station, call an attorney.  Don’t think about it, just do it.

2. They are reading you your Miranda rights or telling you that you have a right to remain silent.

Despite how TV makes it look, the police do not have to read you the Miranda rights whenever they talk to you.  They only have to read them in certain circumstances and, generally, don’t want to read them to you if they don’t have to.  Logically, then, if they are reading it is because they think it is required by law.

When the man with the badge and the gun is telling you that you can call somebody to give you advice on how to deal with the man who has the badge and the gun, think it might make sense to take his suggestion?  I’m not going to get to technical, but it’s safe to assume that if the police feel the need to read you your rights, you should feel the need to call an attorney.  Immediately.  And, you need to tell them that as directly and unequivocally as possible.  Can it get any more clear cut then when the police are talking to you about criminal defense attorneys?  I’d like to say not but, in reality, the vast majority of people (guilty or otherwise) talk to the police.

Oddly enough, this seems to be one of the times people most fear what the police will “think” if they ask for a lawyer.  As simple as it looks on paper, this is probably the most ignored suggestion in all of criminal law.  All I can do is throw it out there.  Ignore it if you want.

3. Things get weird.

I can’t give you an absolute idea of what “weird” is other than to to tell you to trust your gut.  If something a police officer said does not sit well, or a question he asked seemed out of the ordinary, it’s best to talk it over with a lawyer.  This could happen at any stage of a police officer’s investigation, and in any investigation (big or small).  Stopped for speeding and he asks if you “have anything you shouldn’t” in the car?  That’s odd, isn’t it?

If you want to be a legal Jedi, you’re going to have to learn to use the force.

This is exactly what happened the day of our fire.  The tone of the investigation went from “this is electrical, we will be out of here soon” to “where was so-and-so” or “why isn’t the secretary here… is she usually here now?”  Despite my best Jedi mind-trick (“this isn’t the burned building you’re looking for”) my gut told me that the law enforcement mob out there that day was getting testy.  So, I called my guys.  When your gut tells you the same, don’t fight it. Embrace the force and call a lawyer.

Like I said above, these three signs are far from exhaustive.  If you see any of them, though, your thoughts shouldn’t be on whether to call a criminal defense lawyer but on which one to call. For that, I can’t help you.

Dealing with the police: My three favorite things to hear.

If you are free to leave, why would you stay? I wouldn’t. Most people do.

I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking long-and-hard about the way “regular” people deal with the police. I have developed a genuine interest in figuring out why people have no problem questioning any intrusion to their lives… except when it comes to personal dealings with the police. For some reason you will go to great lengths to keep Wal-Mart out of the other side of your town but you have no problem letting the police in your car? I don’t get it. I think I’ve made it plenty clear that how you interact with the police has nothing to do with being guilty or innocent.

Perplexed as I may be, I’ve tried to figure it out. My hunch is that it has to do with the early perception children form of the police. Children are taught, rightly so, that the police help us when we need it. Approached by a stranger? Find the police. Bad car accident on the road? The police show up to help. With D.A.R.E. programs and school liaison officers becoming commonplace, it’s only natural to develop an affinity towards the helpful police. Maybe, then, people don’t want to disappoint people they see as potentially helpful to someone? I’m not sure.

Before I get any more nasty email, I’m not knocking the police. They can’t believe the things people willingly do, either. Don’t believe me? Ask a cop. The police know that most people will let them do whatever they’d like, and those police will use it to their advantage. They are the educated ones.

On that note, today I offer a little counter-education. There are three things that people hardly ever say to the police. Three powerful things. Three things rooted in the Bill of Rights. Three things that may not be specifically mentioned, but that James Madison would want you to know.

Three things you can say (that the police really don’t expect to hear):

1. “Am I free to leave?”
Without getting into a very long legal explanation, this simple question may help trigger a lot of legal issues. If you are not free to leave, your interaction with the police is not “consensual”. It may not be a full-on arrest, but it is not consensual. If you are ever unsure, ask. Don’t be surprised if you get an indirect or incomplete answer back, though. Police don’t get asked this very often, and it can actually be a difficult question to answer from their end. Also, they may be worried that you will leave. Insist on clarification, though. If you are not free to leave, you need to know.

Which brings up another question that torments me. If you are free to leave, why would you stay? I wouldn’t. Most people do.

2. “I would like to speak with an attorney before I talk to you.”  I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, “I’m never going to get interrogated for murder, so why do I care?” Traffic court is filled with people who thought like this. In court, though, they want their day. People want trials. People don’t believe they were speeding. People know that radar is inaccurate. People aren’t buying that they were clocked at 20 MPH over the limit.

People don’t know, though, that traffic court is filled with magic. I’m not talking slight-of-hand or even Jedi mind-trick magic. I’m talking Carnac magic. Anybody sitting in traffic court for a couple of speeding trials has this magic. I have it. You can get it. It’s the magic that helps us know what the police officer says before he even says it:

Seasoned Officer: “…after the radar readout was 76 in a posted 55 MPH zone, I stopped the vehicle.”

Incredibly Skilled Prosecutor: “What happened next?

Seasoned Officer: “I approached the vehicle, asked the driver for license and insurance, and asked her if she knew why I pulled her over.”

Incredibly Skilled Prosecutor: “Then what happened?”

Seasoned Officer: “She admit that she was speeding, but said that she was only going 6 miles-per-hour over the speed limit. She said she was going with the flow of traffic, and could not have been going that fast…”

If the judge believes the driver of the vehicle actually said that, everything else at trial is a lot less important. Confessions are the most damning evidence possible. If the driver had, instead, told the officer that she didn’t want to talk about the stop without consulting an attorney first, she would have a better chance at trial. If you’re going to go to trial, why not take your best chance?

I know you think it’s nuts to say this at a traffic stop. I’m o.k. with that. They are your rights… do with them what you want.

3. No. No. Say it with me, “No!” This one can be a little bit tricky. The general rule is that you’re allowed to say “no.” You’d like to take a look around my car? No. Can you ask me a couple questions? No. You’d like to walk through my back yard? No. Can I come down to the police station to talk to you? No. Do I know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried? No, no, no!

“No” is tricky because there are some exceptions. Never use it if using it will be lying. Am I Matthew Haiduk? Saying “no” to that could get me in trouble. “No” can also be over-ridden. You might say they can’t come in, but their warrant says otherwise. What happens when a team of armed police are dressed in tactical gear, knocking on the door, telling you that they have a warrant and you tell them they can’t come in? Well, they’re about to knock down your door and hog-tie you anyway. What you say doesn’t really matter!

There is a very simple way to figure out of you can say “no.” If you are not sure whether or not you can say it, just scrap “no” off the list of things you’ll say to the police. Instead ask if you are free to leave. Then tell the police you would like to talk to your lawyer. It really is that easy.

Canadians are Bliss: Two simple rules to avoid getting arrested.

People think the law is a science. Like, there are black-and-white rules that control everything. And that every situation is repeatable. For instance, I often get asked how to avoid getting arrested for DUI. You would think the answer is simple, right? You can drink. Or, you can drive. You can’t drink and drive, though.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Plenty of people who are stone-sober have been arrested. A million innocent things might cause the police to believe you are driving under the influence. Think I’m making this up? Put 5 minutes of research into the similarity between diabetic shock and DUI. Or just watch this:

 

So, I have no specifics to offer. I do have a few general rules to offer, though. They may be a bit unorthodox, but stick with me. It will all make sense in the end.

I believe in these rules 100%.

Simple Rule #1: Don’t be Canadian. This might not sound hard, but nearly 34 million people on this continent have got this one wrong. Why don’t you want to be Canadian? It’s simple, really. They don’t have a bill of rights like ours. Or, they couldn’t find their own bill of rights with a map and compass. The bill of rights is what keeps the police out of your life. In the good, old U.S. Of A we have a couple hundred years of enforcing this idea. In Canada, they still don’t know. Saying “Canadian Bill of Rights” is a lot like saying “Canadian Military” in casual conversation. It sounds like it means something, but nobody really knows what it is.

Simple Rule #2: It’s not your business. If you happen to be walking down the road one day and see the police “dealing” with somebody, it is not wise to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. You didn’t see what happened before, you don’t know what is going on, and you don’t know where it is going. They will arrest you to get you out of the way.

That’s not to say that you should tolerate police abuse. Not at all. Sticking your nose in the middle of it is only going to get you arrested, though. You may be more effective calling the State Police (if your “interaction” is with the locals). There is also nothing wrong with video recording anything that happens in public (although you shouldn’t simultaneously record audio in Illinois). Either way, if your focus is to avoid arrest it’s best to avoid things the police are doing that aren’t your business… even if that may not be fun.

I believe in these rules 100%.  Like I said before, though, the law is not science. These two rules are good rules to live by. They may help many of you avoid arrest. There is always an exception, though…

 

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P.S. Who is this guy to use “stranger” to describe another person?