Some people believe that they can talk their way out of anything. When one is facing the prospect of a police interrogation, though, it is best to think again. A police interrogation is not a fair fight. The detectives have all of the experience and all of the information. The only thing a suspect possesses is uncertainty and fear. The experience of the detectives will allow them to unfairly play upon the suspect's fear and uncertainty-- and this results in both false confessions, and confessions, although truthful, that may be the only incriminating evidence that the state possesses.
Thirty years ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized the unfair playing field that a criminal suspect finds himself on while in police custody. The Supreme Court mandated the famous "Miranda Warning", which requires the police, whenever they intend to interrogate an in-custody suspect, to inform the suspect, among other things, that he has the right to remain silent, and he has the right to an attorney. Suspecting that the Miranda Warning had become a hollow protection (according to the detectives, the suspects never invoked their right counsel), recently the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Wisconsin legislature added to the protections. It is now required that all in-custody police interrogations be audio recorded-- and, in the case of juveniles, the interrogation must be video recorded as well.
Invoke your right to counsel
The law provides that once a person invokes his right to counsel, all police interrogation must immediately stop, and it may not resume again until the supect has been provided an opportunity to consult with an attorney. This is in contrast to simply telling the officers that you do not feel like answering questions. Under this circumstance, the officers may legally attempt to persuade the suspect to answer questions.
Only a fool of the worst sort goes into a police interrogation without the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Therefore, when faced with police interrogation you must invoke your right to counsel. This means clearly and unequivocally telling the officers that you will not answer any questions until you have consulted with your attorney. The law provides that comments such as, "Do you think I need an attorney?" are not sufficiently clear to invoke one's right counsel. Therefore, be clear. Be persistent. And stick to your guns.
Interrogation, like anything else, is a skill that police detectives are taught, and which they refine over the years. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer can immediately recognize the strategies of the detectives, and help you avoid false, or unnecessary, confessions.
Three Ploys of Police Detectives
1. Good Cop/Bad Cop. Perhaps the best known interrogation tactic is the good cop/bad cop ploy. It goes likes this: The suspect is left alone in the interrogation room for a lengthy period. The effect of this is the same as calling a time-out before key freethrows in a basketball game to "ice the shooter." Eventually, two detectives will enter the room, one of whom stands in the background. The other, of course, the "bad cop", will be as obnoxious and as intimidating as is legally possible. When the suspect still will not answer questions, the bad cop will lose his temper and leave the room. Then the good cop will sit down and, in an affable manner, attempt to befriend the frightened suspect. Eventually, of course, the good cop wil cajole the supect into confessing.
2. We need something to take to the district attorney. In this ploy, the detectives will calmly inform the suspect that this is an opened and closed case-- they don't even need the defendant to say anything. "If we take this case to the DA right now," the detective will say, "you will spend many years in prison. But we're here to give you an opportunity to explain what happened. There's always two sides to the story, and if the DA hears your side, you'll get credit for it."
Do not fall for this. If it really were an air-tight case, you would not even be interrogated. They would just take the case to the District Attorney for charges. After the suspect gives his "explanation", it corroborates whatever evidence the state does possess, and then the police set about trying to proves that the defendant, in his confession, grossly understated his actual involvement.
3. We just need to know what happened, and then we'll let you go. The interrogation is characterized as a friendly conversation-- all part of a routine investigation. Do not fall for this. If you are detained in an interrogation room, you are the target of the investigation. If, during the course of the interrogation, the police develop probable cause to arrest, you will not be going home. However, if you invoke your right to counsel, you may very well go home. Either way, it is better to spend a night in jail waiting for your lawyer than it is to confess to a serious crime that may result in many years in prison.
Your Lawyer May Allow you to Give a Statement
It does not always follow that once a suspect "lawyers up", that the best course is to stone-wall the prosecution by refusing to give a statement. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows very well that stone-walling is not always the best course. Sometimes, giving a statement-- with the lawyer present to make it a fair process-- is the best course. A solid statement of innocence at the very beginning of the case may sometimes prevent charges from being issued. More importantly, though, if charges are issued and the defense of the case will require the defendant to testify (self-defense, etc), the defendant must immediately give a statement to police. Otherwise, when the defendant later testifies at trial, the prosecutor is allowed to cross-examine the defendant by asking, "Why didn't you tell the police it was self-defense on the day you were arrested?" This can be a very devastating line of cross-examination.
Your lawyer can do the most for you at the outset of the case, during the initial police investigation. Therefore, if you find yourself alone in a police interrogation room, do not hesitate to clearly invoke your right to counsel. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can be a great help to you at this point in the process.
What if I didn't take your advice, and I gave a statement to the police without a lawyer?
If you are reading this because you submitted to police interrogation without the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, and you gave an incriminating statement, all may not be lost. A criminal defense lawyer may still be able to help you. There are number of bases for filing a motion to suppress an in-custody statement. The most-obvious, but the least frequently occurring, is where the police intend to interrogate an in-custody suspect, and the police fail to give the person the Miranda warning. Another basis to suppress a confession is where the police engaged in coercive activity and, therefore, the confession is involuntary. This, too, is relatively uncommon, especially since the statutes were amended to require that all in-custody police interrogations be audio recorded. The most common basis to suppress an in-custody confession is where the defendant invoked his right to counsel, and the police did not cease all interrogation until the suspect was given the opportunity to consult with a criminal defense lawyer. The law provides for a "bright-line" rule that once the suspect invokes his right to counsel, the police may not reinitiate interrogation unless and until the suspect has had the opportunity to consult with a criminal defense lawyer. This bright-line rule drives police detectives to distraction. They employ every possible means to "persuade" the suspect to reinitiate interrogation himself. That is, where the suspect requests that the detectives talk to him again, the law permits the interrogation to resume. Thus, detectives have developed some very clever devices to prompt the suspect to reinitate interrogation. Even so, the courts are skeptical of the detectives whether there is a claim that the defendant reinitated questioning. See, e.g. State v. Yang.
In any event, if you have been subjected to police interrogation, and if you have given an incriminating statement, you should immediately contact a competent criminal defense lawyer.
Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Jeffrey W. Jensen, of the Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen, a Milwaukee law firm with offices located at 735 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Twelfth Floor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has represented persons throughout the State of Wisconsin. If you will face felony charges in either state court or in federal court you should call 414.224.9484. Attorney Jensen regularly appears in Milwaukee County (Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer), Waukesha County (Waukesha criminal defense lawyer, Brookfield criminal defense lawyer), Washington County (West Bend and Germantown criminal defense lawyer), Racine County (Racine criminal defense lawyer), Kenosha County (Kenosha criminal defense lawyer), Brown County (Green Bay criminal defense lawyer), Fond du Lac County (Fond du Lac criminal defense lawyer), and Winnebago County (Oshkosh criminal defense lawyer)
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