If there is one piece of information I wish my clients had when they are the subject of a criminal investigation, it is not to speak to the police. If you might be a suspect, you may find the officers attempting to engage you into questioning. Although it might be obvious that an officer suspects you have committed a crime if the questioning accompanies the search of a house or a car, other tactics are more deceptive. Sometimes, police will call you and ask you to come to the precinct for questioning. Officers will say this is “routine,” or that they want to get your side of the story.”
No matter the reason given, the officer is not trying to help you. The officer is looking for an opportunity to question you and for you to make a statement that will hurt any future defense you may have.
Statements Can Harm Your Case
For the prosecution, some of the strongest evidence in a criminal case is an admission or other statements made by a defendant. Juries and judges alike will rely heavily on any statements you might make to police, which is why prosecutors and cops will try very hard to make sure you make ones that help their case.
Police will try to get you to give a written admission of your alleged crimes as this is the strongest piece of evidence they can enter against you in your case, but that is not the only tool in the police arsenal. Police can also draft reports of any statements you make in their presence, and even if their recollection of your statements, the inflection of your tone, or the meaning of your words doesn’t match with your own, judges and juries are frequently biased to believe the officer.
Even if your statement doesn’t include an outright admission of the crimes, it could include statements that contradict key defenses in your case. For example, you may misstate a name of an alibi witness or describe events differently than you will later at trial. Any inconsistencies can lead a fact-finder to believe that you are untrustworthy or just outright lying.
Your Statements Will not be Perfect
No matter how much you think you have prepared your would be statement to police, it will not be the perfect, exonerating statement you are seeking. Your statements are subject to your memory, how well you remember now, how well you remember under the pressures of police questioning, and how well you can remember facts months later during trial. Any inconsistencies will be picked apart by the police and by prosecutors. If, for example, your alibi is that you were at home watching a particular TV show, but it was actually a different show entirely, this inconsistency could poke major holes in your alibi defense.
Your statement will also be subject to your own biases. What you feel is a fact that makes you look less guilty may make you look very suspicious when viewed in someone else’s perspective. Police are trained in exploiting your biases to encourage you to say more than you should. For instance, they might encourage you to describe what you witnessed in the hopes you will mention details that they think only the suspect responsible would know, and those details will be used against you at your trial.
Statements Can Make You Look Guiltier
Even if you are innocent and feel you have nothing to hide, if you are the subject of a police investigation, it’s unlikely you will give a statement that will help your case. Police are trained at interrogation techniques and can ask questions that can lead you into giving an answer that makes it appear you are admitting to the crime or to some part of it. Or, at the very least, the interview can lead to answers that can be used at trial to attack your defense or used against you to make you seem dishonest, and therefore more likely to commit a crime.
Even if you think that you won’t be giving the police anything important, you could easily give them a detail that is key to their investigation. Unfortunately, you can’t know what the police are investigating, specifically, or what small, seemingly insignificant piece of information you could give would help them to build a stronger case against you.
Yes, talking to the police could give you an opportunity to tell your side of the story, but doing so before you’ve had a chance to talk to an attorney, going to the police without an attorney, or going after you know the police have been investigating you can be potentially disastrous for your future case.
Can the Police be Lenient if I give a Statement?
Sometimes the police will imply that, if you give them a statement, they will be lenient in your case or that the state will give you a lighter sentence or better deal. This is incredibly misleading because the police do not have the power to go easy on your case. Although the police will be the ones investigating and gathering information on a crime, they have little to no discretion when it comes to your charges, and the final decision of your conviction would fall to the judge or jury.
Only the prosecutor in your case can make the final call on charging decisions, and they are not bound to uphold any promise a police officer may have made to you. In fact, prosecutors are less likely to offer plea deals and reduced charges if they have enough evidence to prove their case for more serious charges, evidence you may have provided in your statement to police.
Giving a statement to police may mean the officer, when testifying at your trial, will note that you were cooperative with the police’s investigation, but it’s unlikely to be any more beneficial to your case. It is important to remember, in any interaction with police, that they may offer you deals out of good intentions or genuinely want to get your side of the story. However, it is more likely that these officers are simply using coercive, even false, tactics to get you to offer up a statement against your own interests.