Do I Have to Talk to Police?

No. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says you do not have to talk to police. There is one minor exception to this rule, commonly referred to as the “booking information exception”. In Ohio, and in most states, a statute exists that requires you to give to police your name, birthday, and address (your booking info) if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed a crime, or if you are a witness to a crime. But you do not have to say anything to police other than these three identifiers.

Even though I don’t have to, is it smart to talk to police about my criminal or DUI case?

Police can use what you say against you in court to help secure a conviction. If you are a suspect, that is usually the only reason why police are interested in talking to you. This is because police don’t interrogate suspects to gain perspective, they interrogate suspects for one reason alone: to get a confession.

To this end, police are confession-seeking missiles and they are highly trained professionals in this area. Police will work hard to extract a confession. If they suspect that you are religious, for example, they will pressure you to confess on those grounds, by stressing to you something to the effect that “God is watching.” I have seen this dozens of times. If, during an interrogation, police see that you are particularly concerned about your job, they will imply to you that confessing will (somehow) assist you in keeping your job. Skilled police interrogators can identify and exploit their suspects’ weaknesses and susceptibilities.

Police are also interested in anything that looks like a confession. Police often “see” confessions even when confessions didn’t actually occur. For example, in one case wherein a suspect was alleged to have robbed a store with a knife, and was told by police upon arrest that he was under arrest for robbing a store with a knife, later when a detective was interrogating the suspect, the suspect first stated to the detective, “I did not have a knife.” The detective interpreted this as a confession because the detective had not yet said anything to him about a knife, even though many other officers already had!

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This detective felt very smug about his interrogation skills. The police are trained to get a confession from a suspect by any legal means. They are allowed to lie to you, they are allowed to misrepresent the evidence, and they are allowed to suggest to you that you will be treated more leniently if you confess (even though that lenience, in reality, almost never actually comes).[1] There are some tactics that police are forbidden from using, but talented police interrogators don’t steer clear of these forbidden practices, they instead cleverly straddle that fence. This is the platform you will be dealing with if you decide to speak to police about your criminal or DUI case.

And so in most situations speaking to police has a much greater probability of hurting your criminal or DUI case then helping it. It is vital to remember that your case is not tried in the street, or during any conversation you have with police. It is tried later in court. You probably wouldn’t be in police custody if the police weren’t already convinced that you had committed a crime. And if the police thought their case against you was already rock solid, why would they need you to confess?

So why on earth do suspects talk to police?

The overwhelming majority of those charged with crimes agree to speak to police upon arrest about the incident. This is true whether the crime is a simple DUI/OVI, or a major felony. Their willingness to speak to police is unfortunate because, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the defendant makes his situation much worse by talking to the police.

So why do suspects agree to speak to police? Because most of those arrested don’t understand how the system works. Most believe that their case is being tried in the interrogation room, and if they convince the police that they didn’t commit a crime, the police will let them go. It is important to remember that your case is tried in court and that if you have already been arrested, chances are that your side of the story will not result in your release. This is why it is important to have your attorney present if you want to submit to a police interrogation.

So remember:

1) You have the right not to speak to police.

2) You have the right to have an attorney present if you chose to speak to police.

3) If you choose to speak to police you can end your interrogation at any time.

4) If you want to end the interrogation, you must say so in plain words.

5) If police appear to be suggesting leniency (or that they won’t charge you) in exchange for a confession, it is best to insist that such promises be put in writing. When suspects demand that promises be in writing, police interrogators often end the interrogation. Go figure.

 

[1] If you find this doubtful, take a look at State v. Jones, 2015 Ohio 4116 – Ohio: Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate Dist. 2015.

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