The cops called – Should I get an Attorney?
We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows where the police read the perp his rights. It’s often portrayed as a meaningless formality or a joke. I’m reminded of Martin Riggs advising an unconscious person of his rights in the movie Lethal Weapon 2: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, won’t be much.” Though funny, this is part of why most people don’t consider these warnings as real.
In Arizona v. Miranda, the US Supreme Court held that advise of the right to refuse to speak with police and to have an attorney present prior to questioning was guaranteed by the 6th Amendment. You have to be aware of these rights before you can knowingly waive them.
If you are in a position where a police officer is “reading” you your rights, you will likely also hear some of the following statements or something similar:
“Because I am going to talk with you, I have to read you these rights.”
“I just want to hear your side of the story, but I have to advise you of some rights first.”
“I just need to read this real quick.”
And often times, the reading is real quick. Following the quick warnings, law enforcement will use many varied tactics to try to obtain suspect statements without the presence of an attorney. Police will say they just want to give you an opportunity to explain your side. They may suggest that an invocation of these rights will just make you look guilty. Sometimes they will try bribery like a promise not to take you to jail at that moment if you just answer a few questions honestly. Don’t fall for it. If these warnings are given to you, stop, listen, and refuse to say anything until you have an attorney present. Be as clear as possible with the officer – say “I would like an attorney before I answer any questions.” Once these rights are invoked, law enforcement cannot interrogate further, unless you change your mind.
Of course, often times people should seek the help of an attorney even before being directly confronted by law enforcement. If you learn that law enforcement has opened an investigation into a matter that may involve you, you might want counsel to stand between you and the State from the very beginning. Many times, the first whiff of investigation a person gets is from a child’s school administrator or an agent of the Department of Human Services. These agencies will not warn anybody of their rights against self-incrimination as they are not legally bound to. But they will certainly share all statements you make to them with law enforcement or the local district attorney’s office.
Everyone needs to know that the right to counsel and the right against self-incrimination (right to remain silent) are so fundamental that a jury cannot be told that they were invoked. This is because our Constitution doesn’t even want to give jurors the chance to conclude that a person was trying to hide something and therefore must have some guilt.
The bottom line is this - if law enforcement has enough evidence on which to arrest you, nothing you say will talk them out of it. And if they don’t have enough evidence, don’t risk giving them more – just stay silent and send them on their way.