Use Caution When Speaking with Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officers, whether city, county, state, or federal, perform vital functions for public safety. They find missing children, get drunken drivers off the road, investigate motor vehicle crashes, and so on. Nonetheless, sometimes it is not in a person’s best interest to voluntarily provide information to a cop. Let me offer a few pointers.

Do not admit to a traffic violation. I know it is tempting to think you can “work with” an officer who has pulled you over for running a stop sign. Maybe if you confess, he or she will give you a warning instead of a summons for court. That happened to me when I was about 19: when a patrol officer asked if I knew why I had been stopped, I admitted to driving a little over the speed limit; he then told me that he had not caught me on his radar gun but, instead, had pulled me over because I had a tail light out. I got a warning, but I almost talked myself into two civil violations. If a cop stops you and asks whether you know why you were stopped, tell the truth: you do not know. You are required to provide your driver’s license, proof of vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, though.

If you have been detained or arrested for the investigation of an alleged crime, it is rarely a wise decision to speak with the investigating officer. Even if you are totally innocent, your words can be used against you. Also, if you are innocent of the alleged crime but guilty of something less serious, you can talk yourself into a conviction for the lesser offense. You may not even know that something you have done is a misdemeanor or civil violation until after you have confessed.
If you think you are a suspect or could become one, you should not assume that factual innocence will keep you out of jail. Sometimes, innocent people go to jail for a few hours or days while they clear themselves of any suspicion. Worse, some innocent people make false confessions, are convicted of crimes, and spend years in prison. When in doubt, exercise your right to remain silent.

If you have committed a crime, and a cop is asking you about it, do not think any kind of excuse or apology will keep you from going to jail. There is virtually no chance that you will talk your way out of the situation. However, there is a good chance that incriminating statements will later be used against you in court.

I do not provide these warnings as a means to help anyone “get away with” committing a crime. Rather, I am concerned about constitutional violations, false confessions, and unduly harsh sentences. So, remember the Miranda warning language: you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

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