The Hope Diamond is missing, and Officer Friendly thinks you stole it. He types your name into a computer, and instantly knows where you work, where you live, what you drive, and whether or not you’ve been in trouble before. He calls you on the telephone, and tells you he needs to speak with you. He’s very vague about why. He does not say “I think you stole the Hope Diamond”. Instead, he says something like “There’s been a complaint. I just need you to come talk to me so I can clear a few things up.” He gets you to agree to come to the police station to speak with him, at a specific time.
Choose Your Own Misadventure:
A. You call a lawyer.
B. You go to the meeting.
A. You call a lawyer.
· The lawyer says STOP! Don’t go to that meeting! Come to my office, and let me explain what is about to happen to you. You go see the lawyer, and write a check (as lawyers tend to require – this one is pretty small, though, since you’re not charged with anything yet, and if you’re lucky you won’t be). The lawyer writes a letter to Officer Friendly saying essentially: “I represent this person. Don’t talk to him. Call me if you get a warrant for him.” Your lawyer has just exercised your Constitutional rights for you. Officer Friendly can’t question you now on this matter. He either has the evidence to charge you or he doesn’t. If he does, he will, and your lawyer will have a better chance to fight for your innocence, or work out a good plea deal because you didn’t talk. If he doesn’t, the file sits in your lawyer’s cabinet for months and is eventually closed without you ever being arrested at all.
B. You go to the meeting.
· You arrive at the front desk of the police department. The woman behind the bullet proof glass window tells you to have a seat – Officer Friendly will be with you in a moment. Officer Friendly comes and leads you to a room buried fairly deep inside the police station requiring you to make several turns and perhaps pass through sets of doors. This is the “interview room”. (Ask yourself – why isn’t this room near the front door?)
· It is a smallish room, sparsely furnished, with no windows. The door may have a big latch mechanism visible from the inside, which looks like a deadbolt style lock. There is a small plastic table and 2 or 3 folding chairs. Officer Friendly opens the door so that you enter first (wasn’t that nice?). He asks you to take a seat, indicating the one deepest into the room, and places himself between you and the door. The room is wired for audio and video, and you are being recorded the whole time you’re there. You are having a “Voluntary Police Citizen Encounter”.
· Officer Friendly smiles, and acts like this is No Big Deal. He’s just Going Through The Motions. He tells you he really appreciates your coming to talk to him, but before you get started he has to read you your rights. He asks you if you understand your rights, and having those rights in mind, if you will sign this little piece of paper saying you want to talk to him now. Well, you’re already there, and you are afraid that if you don’t sign the paper, it will make you look guilty, so you sign and guess what? You just waived your Constitutional rights! That was Easy!
· Officer Friendly starts off with general questions that don’t seem real threatening. Then gradually, he starts to ask you things that make you uncomfortable. Maybe you stole the Hope Diamond, and maybe you didn’t, but either way, this is not a fun conversation. The longer you talk, the more you would like to leave, the more you think it will look bad if you do, so you stay and talk more… and every word, every gesture, is recorded without your knowledge. Eventually, Officer Friendly starts accusing you, directly. He says “I know you did it.” He interrupts you and cuts you off when you try to tell him no. He won’t let you get the words out of your mouth. You start to get scared and confused.
· You are not allowed to lie to a police officer – that’s a crime. However, the police are allowed to lie to you. In fact, Officer Friendly has been trained to lie to you. He tells you that he knows you stole the Hope Diamond, because your fingerprints or DNA were found on the glass case from which it was taken. You rack your brains to think of how that could possibly be true. You think out loud, trying in vain to come up with possible explanations, but they just sound false and far-fetched to both you and the cop. You start to wonder if that really is a lock on the door.
· Eventually, maybe you get charged with a crime, and maybe you don’t. Best case scenario, you just suffered through the humiliating and frightening experience of a police interrogation. (Ah, but it was Voluntary! Remember that – now don’t you feel better?) Worst case scenario, you just gave Officer Friendly the evidence he needed to charge you with a crime, and you’re going to need that lawyer after all.
So is the moral of the story how to commit crimes and get away with it? Of course not. Don’t steal the Hope Diamond, or anything else. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t do drugs. If you don’t commit crimes, you can save a fortune in attorney’s fees! Seriously, though -- the police are doing their jobs and good for them. We absolutely need good cops. I honor and value their service. We also need good lawyers and an educated public.
The moral of this story is that you should know and value your own constitutional rights. Whether the First Amendment is your favorite, or the Second -- don’t EVER waive your rights just because you don’t know any better. A whole lot of people fought and died to give them to you, and they are worth more than a whole box of rocks.
*DISCLAIMER: The above is for informational and entertainment purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this information does not create an attorney-client relationship with André A. Hakes or the law firm of Tucker Griffin Barnes, P.C.
Criminal Defense Attorney
Tucker Griffin Barnes
Charlottesville, VA (434-973-7474)