Cops and robbers; good guys wear white; bad guys wear black; good cop/bad cop—we like to pretend that it’s easy to tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. I represent a lot of good people who had a bad day and were arrested for committing a crime. It’s exceedingly rare to meet someone who’s just a flat-out bad person. And thank goodness. Good people with mental health issues or who are suffering from addiction can do some pretty bad things. Heck, just a nice person in a bad situation can do bad things. Most people who commit crimes are genuinely kind and would never consider themselves to be bad people. This can lead to the misconception that the cops are not out to get you—after all, they’re there to protect the good people from the bad people, right??
I see it again and again where my clients fall into this trap with the police. They think they’re good guys, even when they’re accused of bad things like DWI, drug possession, common assault, or assault family violence. My clients know they are good people, and they believe good people cooperate with the police, even when it is absolutely not in their best interest. They genuinely believe police officers are going to help them because the police have some magical sense to tell the good people from the bad. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.
A police officer’s job is to enforce the law. They are professional interrogators, and they cannot accomplish much without the cooperation of the accused. I can tell you this: if they didn’t need to talk to you to strengthen their case, they wouldn’t. I had a client who was convinced that because he said he had an “off the record conversation” with the officer, the content of those few moments would not be used against him. This is totally wrong! The police can lie to you, tell you it’s off the record, and still absolutely use it to convict you.
There are tons of misconceptions about Miranda rights, thanks to unrealistic television shows and movies. Some people believe they can’t ask you questions, or that your answers can’t be used against you unless they recite the Miranda warning. In reality, if you are willingly talking to a police officer, it’s on you. They will definitely write it in their report and use it against you.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: You have the right to remain silent! Please exercise that right! You need to identify yourself and provide identification/insurance and get out of your vehicle, if asked, AND THAT’S IT! You do not have to answer questions, you should never volunteer evidence to incriminate yourself, and you can NEVER talk your way out of it. And PLEASE, do not start guessing about what answers you think will sound good. I can’t tell you how many DWI videos I’ve seen where the driver initially says they’ve had “a couple” of drinks (hint: almost every single one). This inevitable leads to the officer asking how many is a couple. The response is usually two, and then later on there’s a more realistic number, like five. All this tells the officer is that you’ve now admitted to drinking. We all know you didn’t have two drinks.
The safest thing to say is “I’m invoking my fifth amendment right and I will not answer any questions. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have with my attorney present.” And trust me it’s hard to say that. Officers don’t like it because they rely on your answers to build a case against you. But frankly, when you’re dealing with a police officer it’s the only practical way to respond to pointed questions. I am by no means suggesting that you should be rude or uncooperative. Keeps your hands in plain sight, follow instructions, do as asked immediately, never use profanity and be respectful. JUST DO IT SILENTLY. I want you to protect yourself, which also means not also picking up a charge for resisting arrest or worse.
I recently had an opportunity to hear a Texas Ranger speak about investigating officer-involved shootings. They don’t even Mirandize their own officers because they count on the officer’s willingness to talk to them. And guess what? Anything that officer says is going to be used against him. If they do that with their own, what do you think they’re going do with you?
The moral of the story is that when an officer pulls you over, you’re no longer the good guy. So the safe thing to do is understand your right to remain silent and exercise it.