The urban legend goes a little something like this:

“If I’m just honest with the police, they will either let me go or be lenient with me.”

We have all heard a story where your cousin’s best friend’s wife’s husband was let go by the police when he “sweet talked” his way out of it. While this may happen once in a blue moon, it is the extremely rare exception, and not the reality of a police-citizen encounter.

The truth is: talking to the police CANNOT help you. It can only hurt you.

The Constitution grants you the right against making self-incriminating statements. The Constitution also grants you the right to have your lawyer present for police questioning. Whether you are innocent or guilty, exercising these rights can ensure that you receive a just and favorable result in your impending criminal case.

If you are stopped by the police for any reason, just remember the two golden rules:

  • Rule #1: Shut Up: What You Say WILL Be Used Against You. Every Single Time.
  • “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you.”

    This line has been made famous by Hollywood and any TV cop drama that has aired in the past 30 years. However, the reality in Michigan is: don’t wait for a police officer to inform you of these rights. If an officer starts asking you questions, no matter how “friendly” or “routine” the questions may seem, you have the right to say:

    “I am invoking my right to silence.”

    So now what? You have invoked your right to silence. Once you do this, the officer should stop asking you anymore questions. If you don’t invoke your right to silence, or if you start trying to explain yourself to the officer, it WILL be used against you later. Everything you say to that officer leading up to, and after your arrest will end up in his/her police report. Do not let any friendliness trick you into thinking that what you say will not be used. It will be used against you. Every single time.

    People can say all sorts of things when they are nervously trying to explain a situation. The officer could easily misrepresent what you said in their police report. And then you are stuck trying to fight against your own “words” in your case. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it will become your word versus the police officer’s. Even if you are completely innocent, if you nervously said something incriminating, it can be used to convict you.

    Don’t let this happen to you. Invoke your right to silence, because your words CAN and WILL be used against you later. Every single time.

  • Rule #2: Ask For Your Lawyer: You Have the Right to a Lawyer. Use This Right. It Can Be the Difference Between Freedom and Jail Time.
  • If you are about to be arrested, not only should you invoke your right to silence, you should also invoke your right to a lawyer. The Constitution grants you the right to have your lawyer at every step of your criminal proceeding. Even if you cannot afford a lawyer on your own, the court will appoint one for you. Having a lawyer present can be the difference between freedom and jail time. So what should you say if you are being arrested?

    “I am invoking my right to silence, and I will not speak to you without my lawyer present.”

Why should you wait until you have your lawyer present? What if you are guilty, and you want to confess? Or what if you are innocent, do you really need a lawyer since you didn’t do anything?

If you are guilty and want to confess, wait until you have the chance to speak with your lawyer. First, the police cannot make “deals” with you or grant you any leniency in exchange for a statement. Only the prosecutor can do that. Your lawyer will inform you of this, and do everything that they can to make sure you are not being improperly charged with a crime. Second, by telling your lawyer the story first, the lawyer can advise you of your rights and do everything in their power to get you the best result. If you still feel the need to confess and get it off of your chest, your lawyer can help you navigate this process, while still ensuring that your rights are being protected.

If you are innocent and believe that it’s ok to talk to the police since you “have nothing to hide,” think again. It’s easy under the pressure of a police interrogation to say things that aren’t accurate or that can be used against you. Remember: you are fighting the State now. The State has unlimited resources to make their case against you. The State can take one misstatement by you, and use that against you at your trial. The statement that you made could have been misrepresented in the police report, or taken entirely out of context. By talking to your lawyer first, you can protect yourself against this miscarriage of justice.

Don’t forget: if you are being arrested, there is no rush to say anything to the police. Criminal cases take time to resolve. Be patient. Wait until you can speak with your attorney regarding your rights. It can be the difference between your freedom and doing some hard time in prison.

To boil it all down:

If you are stopped for any reason by the police, shut up and ask for your lawyer. These are the magic words. Learn them, and protect yourself against injustice.

“I am invoking my right to silence, and I will not speak to you without a lawyer present.”