[by Dennis Alan Lempert, Santa Clara County attorney]
Question: A police detective called me to the police station. When I got there he took me to an interview room and told me I was not under arrest, and was free to leave, but he wanted to talk to me about an investigation he was conducting. He did not advise me of my Miranda Rights, but assured me if I told the truth, everything would be O.K. I agreed to talk and made a number of statements. After I finished, the detective said he didn’t believe me and arrested me. Now the D.A. is trying to use my statements against me. Can they do that? -Peter K. (Fremont, California)
Everyone in the United States, whether a witness, a victim or a suspect, has an absolute right not to talk to police. This might not be true in other countries.
When a statement is made to the police, though, anything in that statement may be used against you. Many people believe that the police must always advise them of their right against self-incrimination, sometimes referred to as their “Miranda Rights”. Not true! The only requirement is that the police must advise a suspect of his Miranda Rights if they intend to question the suspect after an arrest. If the police tell you you’re not under arrest, and are free to leave, no warnings need be given.
If the police are required to advise you of your Miranda Rights and don’t, then things you say can still be used against you if you testify in your trial.
Police and other investigators are specially trained to get information and statements (that aid the prosecution) from persons whom they believe might be involved in a crime. Anytime someone who is suspected of a crime talks, they give the authorities evidence that can and will be used against them. Police are not only allowed to lie, they are taught how to lie better. Even if they say they are telling the truth they can (and often do) lie. Police lying is a regular part of their interrogation technique.
One of the most common mistakes made by people who are confronted by the police or other investigators is talking. Sometimes people believe that if they don’t talk, that will be used against them. Not true! If you invoke your right to remain silent, it can never be used against you. The police might say it will go easier on you if you talk. Not true! The only thing that will be easier will be convicting you from the words out of your mouth. The police may tell you that you have to talk. Not true! You always have the right to remain silent. I have many, many clients who were convicted of crimes based on their own statements. Had they only remained silent, they would never have been convicted.
The only words that anyone should ever say when questioned — whether by a police officer or a private investigator — are: “I WANT MY LAWYER”. Keep repeating that statement until you get a lawyer. Don’t allow the police to trick you or intimidate you into saying anything. Be smart and be quiet.
(c)2003-2011 by Dennis Alan Lempert
The specific information in Mr. Lempert’s article applies to California law, but will be similar or identical in other states.
This article is for informational purposes only and may not be accurate or apply in every situation. Please consult with an experienced criminal attorney regarding your case.