As most people know, when a person is arrested or otherwise taken into custody, they have certain rights about which the police must inform that suspect. That person has a right to remain silent and consult a lawyer without ever speaking to the police. People always have this right, but it is only once they are in some sort of custody and under interrogation when the police must inform the suspect of those rights before moving forward with an interrogation.
Few things damage a suspect’s criminal case more than speaking to police, particularly in the early stages of the case when the suspect does not know all of the details and the police have much more information about the case. It is almost always more beneficial for a suspect to remain silent at this point.
When the police want to get a statement from a suspect, it is normally because the police feel like they can make their case against the suspect stronger with the statements the suspect makes. In almost every situation, the police are correct. So, when deciding whether to speak to the police at an early stage with limited information, it is important to understand the police are seeking a statement for a reason and that reason is not favorable to the suspect.
Because obtaining a statement from suspects who are at an informational disadvantage is such a benefit to the police in most cases, the police employ a variety of tactics to try and convince suspects to speak to the police without first speaking to a criminal defense lawyer. They can use tricks and misleading or outright false information to convince a suspect to speak without a criminal defense attorney. Much of that is fair game and even when it is highly questionable, proving the improper tactics the police used to solicit a statement may be difficult- a matter of the suspect’s word against the words of a couple of police officers or detectives.
However, the police cannot just say anything to get a suspect to give a statement without consulting a criminal defense lawyer. The police have to be careful when making inappropriate promises or threats to get a suspect to make a statement. In a recent drug sale case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police took a suspect into custody and read the Miranda warnings to the suspect, telling him he had a right to remain silent and a right to a criminal defense attorney. During this process, the police officer told the suspect that if he gave a statement, not only would it not cause harm to the suspect but it would benefit him.
Again, it is important to understand that criminal cases are adversarial procedures. That means if one side is benefiting, generally the other side is being damaged. Police want to take statements to benefit the state’s case. If that happens, the suspect’s case is probably getting worse. So, if the police say giving a statement will benefit a suspect, they are generally lying. At best, they have no idea whether it is true or not because they do not know what a suspect will say, but most likely, it is an outright lie because one side’s benefit is almost always the other side’s detriment.
In this case, the criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the statement based on the false statements made by the police to elicit the statement. The court agreed, and the defendant’s conviction was reversed because the illegal statement was used against the defendant in his trial.
When trying to get a statement from a suspect, the police do not have to explain all of the possible ramifications to the suspect of giving a statement. However, they cannot promise any benefits, general or specific, that they know are false. In this business, everyone knows that the police suggesting a suspect talk to them at the beginning of a case is not likely to benefit a suspect.