If you are in the military, the military police (or other law enforcement personnel) have to tell you what crime you are suspected of before they question you. They also have to tell you that you have a right to remain silent. And they have to tell you that anything you say can be used as against you. In other words, you cannot be forced to say anything that will incriminate yourself. You have these rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). While the UCMJ applies to military members, civilians also have similar rights under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[See footnote]
Before we go over the 5 reasons, let’s go over some basic things.
Why do the police want to talk to you?
- They want to talk to you because they have some evidence that you committed a crime. It could be a statement from someone who believes they saw you commit a crime. Or it could be a statement by one witness who lied to the police to get you in trouble.
Why do so many people want to talk to the police when they are questioned?
- Because they want to prove they are innocent. They want to be cooperative and tell the police they are innocent….because they are innocent.
Always be respectful to law enforcement, but DO NOT try to prove you are innocent. Do not talk to the police.
2. Because they think that if they ask for a lawyer, the police will think they are guilty.
This is not true. It is ALWAYS smart to ask for a lawyer.
3. Because they want to tell their story.
Don’t tell your story to the police. After you speak to your lawyer, you can talk about how to tell your story.
Ok, here are the 5 Reasons you should NOT talk to law enforcement personnel when questioned about a crime you are suspected of committing:
- There is NO way it can help
There is no way you can talk yourself out of being arrested. You will never meet a defense attorney who has said: “Thank God my client talked to the police.”
- Even if you are innocent and you deny your guilt and tell the truth, you can easily get carried away and tell some little lie or make a mistake that will hang you later.
Example: You meet with the police and say that you never had a gun and never even met Mr. Jones. And, in fact, you were never in Park City during the crime. You told the truth about the gun and Mr. Jones, but you were in Park City. You lied about never being in Park City. This lie will cause authorities to question why you lied about never being in Park City.
- Even if you are innocent and you tell the truth, you will always give the police some information that can be used to help convict you.
Example: You may say something unintentionally that is true but that can be used as evidence to convict you. “I did not kill Mr. Jones. I don’t even have a gun, I haven’t seen Mr. Jones in 10 years. I hate Mr. Jones, but no one likes him.”
At trial: Sgt Smith testifies that when he questioned you, you said you hated Mr. Jones.
- Even if you are innocent and tell the truth and you don’t tell the police anything incriminating, there is still a chance that your answers can be used to crucify you if the police do not recall your testimony with 100% accuracy.
Example: “I don’t know who killed John. I’ve never touched a gun in my life.”
At trial, the police officer testifies that he had never told you that the weapon used was a gun. The police wonder why you mentioned a gun. But, you remember the first police officer who brought you in for questioning told you that the crime involved a gun. This police officer does not recall telling you about the gun. Now everyone is wondering how you know the crime involved a gun.
- Even if you are innocent and tell the truth and do not tell the police anything incriminating, your answers can still be used to crucify you if the police have evidence that something you told the police was false.
You want to be cooperative and talk to the police because you are 100% innocent and want to prove you are innocent.
Example: You say: “I don’t know who robbed that store. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t even in Park City last night. I was four hours away in another city.”
Later law enforcement find out that a witness you went to high school with swears that she saw you in Park City on the night in question. And since you told the police you were not in Park City, the police think that you lied. This is the government’s star witness because the star witness will say she saw you in Park City (even though she is mistaken). But, now you are suspected of lying about not being in Park City so you must have committed the crime and lied about not being in Park City to cover up the crime. That’s why you should not talk to the police.
Hopefully, this gives you the basic idea of why it is never a good idea to talk to law enforcement. It is natural for people to want to prove they are innocent, but it backfires. While you should always be respectful, always ask for a lawyer. Always.
Footnote: I recently saw a YouTube video, titled, “Don’t Talk to the Police” by Professor James Duane. The video went viral. Professor Duane made excellent points on why you should ask for a lawyer when questioned by police. This article is a summary of Professor Duane’s points as well as some of the examples he used to explain the concepts. My thanks to Professor Duane for his excellent presentation!
Ferah Ozbek is a retired from the United States Air Force where she served as an active duty judge advocate for over 20 years. She continues to practice military law and represents military members and veterans who are facing injustice. To learn more about how Ferah can help you, send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her website at ferahozbek.com