The short answer is you should NEVER speak to the police without an attorney. There are NO exceptions to this rule. However, people still do, and throughout my career I have heard many different reasons why people decided to speak to law enforcement on their own. Here are a few of the reasons, and why they are not well founded.
- No one wants to look guilty - To which I say, “Are you going to look more guilty sitting next to me in an orange jumpsuit, or if you simply ask for a lawyer?” Asking for a lawyer doesn’t make you look guilty. The police already believe that you are guilty - that’s why they want to talk to you. They believe you’ve committed a crime, and they want to get you to state that.
- People believe that if they tell their side of the story it will be over - The police are not going to believe you, and talking will not end things. They aren’t going to believe you because their job has conditioned them to believe the accuser, and/or that you are going to lie to them. They may tell you that they “just want to clear some things up,” but that is merely a line to lead you to believe that it is nothing serious and it’s ok to talk.
- People are curious to know what’s going on – You may wrongfully believe that if you go in and keep your mouth shut the police will tell you what’s going on. That is not what will happen. The police may tell you a little bit, or possibly mislead you in an effort to get you talking. Once you they get you talking you are likely to make inconsistent statements, or be unsure of how to respond. In the end you will give far more than you will ever receive.
- “I didn’t do anything wrong - what could go wrong with me talking to the police?” The simple fact of the matter is that the environment you will be in will make you stressed, and the police may use psychologically sophisticated techniques to get you to say what they want to hear. You may get facts wrong, forget information, become confused or simply say things to make it end and you will be stuck with whatever you say. One simple slip-up could lead to you being charged or convicted. Why take the chance?
- “I don’t want to go to jail!” - Police officers will often say they can arrest you immediately, but if you come down and talk they won’t put you in jail. That’s true: once you go down and talk to them they usually let you go home afterward. However, they’ll bring charges the next day or week and then put you in jail.
In short, you should never speak to law enforcement for any reason without an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side.