Column: Don’t talk to the police

Don’t talk to the police. Why? Because you don’t have to.

You know about the Fifth Amendment, but do you know exactly what it means for you?

When I intercept my roommate’s Pickleman’s pizza delivery and eat half of it before he gets out of the shower, I know what my first thoughts are when he asks who ate it: deny, deny, deny. And that works pretty well with my roommates, but what if the circumstances are more severe than a pizza?

When you read the Miranda Warning, you’re interpreting very specific language. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” with against being the operative word. Calling upon a conversation with an officer to prove innocence, not guilt, is considered hearsay and will hold no water in court.

So, your testimony can’t help you in court. And how many guilty people do you know who have talked their way out of being arrested? Even if you’re innocent, there’s a multitude of things that could go wrong.

Let’s say you’re accused of stealing a woman’s purse. In court, it’s your word against hers. Let’s say the officer responding to this woman’s call has already stated he had an unrecorded conversation with you immediately following the incident, which is true. You never said you stole the woman’s purse, but now the officer says you say you grabbed the purse as a joke.

The conversation wasn’t recorded, so this hearsay is viable and can be used against you. How has the situation changed? It is now your word against the word of the victim and the police officer.

What else could go wrong? Let’s say you’re asked to recount an event. Yesterday, what did you do immediately when you got out of bed? Did you stretch or yawn? What did you have for breakfast?

Maybe you remember, but for most of us, small details are hard to recount. During the course of an interrogation, maybe you mess up small details, whether you’re innocent or not, because you sincerely can’t remember. What will the court hear?

The witness was unable to provide a consistent statement.

What if you express something, true or not, in an interview with an officer of the law? For example: “I didn’t hit him. I didn’t see him get hit, and I don’t know who hit him. I don’t really like the guy, but I wouldn’t hit him.”

The added personal detail would convince a friend or a roommate (i.e. “That pizza? It was half-eaten when I sat down here, man. I ate like 10 minutes ago. Why would I eat it?”), but when matters get legal it’s very different.

Like being quoted in a newspaper or a yearbook, what you say is very easy to take out of context. When you said, “I don’t like him, but I didn’t assault the guy,” what did the court hear?

“Officer, was there anything that stood out about your interview with the man on trial?”

“As a matter of fact, he told me that he never liked the guy.”

I’m not saying that all police officers are waiting to twist your words around. What I’m saying is that if talking can’t help you at all, then why talk?

With 204 wrongful convictions overturned since 2000 (via ForensicScience.org), I know I’m keeping my mouth shut.

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