When law enforcement pays a visit to your home or work without an invitation, appointment, or notice, it’s probably not good, but you just don’t know. Because of this potential lack of clarity, it is important you speak to an experienced attorney before talking to law enforcement.
1. You don’t know if you are the subject or the target of an investigation.
Sometimes police go door-to-door to canvas an area where a crime has occurred, asking if anyone saw or heard anything. The problem is that when police come to your door to ask questions, you have no idea if you are the target of the investigation or if they just want to find out more information.
2. Investigators are under no obligation to tell you the truth.
Police may tell you they are investigating someone else to get you to talk, but by the time you figure out that you’re the real target of the investigation, it may be too late. Lying to citizens is a completely acceptable technique in both investigation and interrogation. Yes, police can lie to you and are under no obligation to be truthful with you.
3. It is illegal to lie to the police.
If you are caught lying to police, several bad things can happen:
Your statements will be used against you in a criminal trial to discredit you.
You can be charged with giving false statements to a police officer which is a crime (even when the same officer lies to you during the investigation).
If you take further action to conceal you lies, you could be charged with obstruction of justice or additional crimes.
4. The information you provide could lead to your arrest—even if you are innocent.
The devil is in the details. Police need probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause includes well-grounded facts that a crime occurred and that the accused committed it. Investigators know that many people who commit crimes will not admit to it right off the bat. The goal of most investigations and interrogations is not to get a confession, but to pull enough details out of a suspect to establish probable cause to arrest.
5. Your words can and will be used against you.
People will often complain to their criminal attorney that their Miranda Warning was not read to them. The false assumption is that police must tell you if they are going to use the information you provided against you. Police must read Miranda Rights only when they arrest. A statement made by a person not in custody does not require a Miranda Warning. Often in sex assault investigations, law enforcement will conduct a non-custodial interview with a suspect, let them go at the end of the interview, then arrest that person later that day, week, or month.
6. You have no right to know you are under investigation.
Police do not have to tell you they are investigating you for a crime. Often federal indictments are the result of months or years of investigation. For example, a federal drug conspiracy or wire fraud case may involve cooperating witnesses gathering information about you for law enforcement for months prior to law enforcement coming to your door to question you.
7. Investigations are confidential.
A lot of people are willing to talk to police without a criminal lawyer present because they want to learn what is going on, so they provide any needed information to police. Most people under investigation are rightfully scared out of their minds, so they want to cooperate with the investigation to find out what will happen next. Police are under no obligation to provide information about the ongoing investigation, even to those who cooperate.
8. You don’t know your options.
In state and federal white-collar cases for crimes such as fraud, theft or money laundering, a cooperating suspect may be able to strike a deal preventing her from being charged with a crime. But without consulting a criminal attorney, you don’t know if you have valuable information that could be exchanged for your liberty. Furthermore, if you are going to provide information about the crime, an attorney can protect you through proffer, cooperation and non-prosecution agreements.
9. You cannot talk your way out of an arrest, but you can talk your way into one.
While some people can talk their way out of a speeding ticket, you cannot talk your way out of a criminal investigation. By the time police talk to a target, they have already talked to all other witnesses and reviewed evidence such as text messages, cell phone records, surveillance camera footage, and so forth. At this point, talking without a criminal attorney present increases the likelihood of a conviction.
10. You don’t know what you’re up against.
Seasoned criminal defense attorneys know the huge amounts resources and effort that law enforcement puts into investigation and prosecution. A criminal jury trial is a game of inches. Every fact matters, good or bad. A misspoken sentence by the accused during an interrogation may be the difference between being found guilty or not guilty.
A good criminal defense attorney can shed light on the investigation and provide advice on actions to take prior to speaking with law enforcement. Most importantly, the criminal attorney can advise you on whether to talk to law enforcement or whether to invoke your constitutional rights.