When is it a good idea to talk to the police (without a lawyer) during a criminal investigation?
Never! As a suspect in a criminal investigation, speaking with police will almost certainly be harmful. Police officers who are investigating a crime are not there to help you, no matter how hard they try to convince you that they are your friends. When police are investigating, it is their job to find evidence and make an arrest. The more evidence they can find, the better for them.
For someone who is guilty, confessing immediately to the police during an investigation may make that person feel better momentarily, but at the end of the day, a confession will NOT be beneficial when navigating the criminal justice system. As they say, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
Why won’t confessing help you?
In the Florida criminal system, pleading guilty (or no contest) at some point during the criminal process is commonplace for many reasons, including doing so in exchange for a preferable plea offer, to enter a diversionary program, or to avoid trial. Unfortunately, a person who has already confessed to a crime has many of these options taken away from them. Why would a prosecutor offer you a good plea deal if they already have the case against you wrapped up with a shiny bow? With a few exceptions, admitting guilt can almost always be done at a later stage of the criminal process. Talk to a lawyer before you spill your guts, and let the lawyer do the talking for you. An attorney may be able to obtain a beneficial plea bargain, or find some defense in your case, or possibly even find a way to get the charges reduced or the case dismissed if certain factors are present. However, if there is already a confession, you have made the State’s case against you easier to prove, and you will likely face a much tougher road in your defense.
Won’t the police be more lenient if you just tell them what you did?
No! The most important thing to remember is that police do not have the authority to make plea deals, change charges, or give you lesser sentences. The State Attorney’s Office and the Judge are the only ones who have authority to do so. Police are not there to help you. In fact, police are allowed to legally lie to you to a certain extent! Do not get tricked – officers may act like your buddy when they are investigating, or even try to tell you that they “already know” what you have done and that you may as well just admit it or things will get worse for you, even if they really have no idea! If the police are planning on arresting you, you will not be able to talk them out of it. They are only looking for more evidence directly from you to seal the deal with their charges. You do not have to talk to police – don’t make things more difficult on yourself by voluntarily giving the police the rope they need to hang you with.
If the police didn’t read my rights, won’t the case get thrown out?
Not necessarily! Reading your rights, or “Miranda Warnings,” does not apply to statements volunteered by you at any time or questioning during an investigatory stop. The only time police have to read your rights is when they have arrested you and plan to ask you questions about a crime. However, anything you say voluntarily to a police officer at any time can be used against you!
But what if you’re innocent?
Even if you are innocent, it is so easy to make a simple misstatement that can hurt you. A little white lie that you don’t think is relevant to the case could be used against you. Telling minor details one way to a police officer and then mixing up the details later in court can be used to hurt your credibility and make you look guilty, even if you are not. If your story changes even the tiniest bit, you can bet that during trial the State Attorney will have the jury asking themselves why you lied to the police if you were so innocent. Contact a criminal defense attorney before you speak with the police. You have the right to remain silent for a reason – use it!
This blog is meant for educational and informational purposes only. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship nor is it intended to be legal advice for any individual case or situation. This is free; legal advice is not. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. If you are being charged with or investigated for a crime, you should consult a criminal defense attorney regarding your individual case.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.