Thursday, April 12, 2012

Know Your Rights, Pt. 3: At the Station

Welcome to part three of my four part series that examines and explains your rights while talking to police in different settings and situations.  If you haven't read parts one or two yet, you can find out what you should and shouldn't do when you're pulled over in your vehicle and when police show up at your home.

While traffic stops may be the most common type of interaction between citizens and law enforcement, and home visits may be the most invasive, being asked to accompany officers to the police station for questioning is probably the most frightening.  Whenever someone is in an enclosed room with police, being questioned about their knowledge of or their role in a crime, tensions are sure to be high.  The key to being successful in this scenario is knowing your rights and exercising them as necessary.  This entry will walk you through the situation and give some helpful hints along the way.

(A quick aside:  While reading this post will surely better equip you to deal with being questioned by police, it is my professional advice that you never attempt to handle this situation on your own.  Call a Minnesota criminal defense attorney to accompany you to the station and sit with you during questioning.  You may think the Q&A session is going to be cordial, breezy, and non-confrontational, but things could turn quickly.  Detectives are very good at hiding their intentions during questioning for as long as possible.  Their job is to make you feel comfortable enough to tell them what they want to hear.  The best way to make sure you aren't lulled into a false sense of security is to have an experienced lawyer by your side to keep vigilant for you.)

This situation starts like this:  You're having your conversation at your front door with Officer Friendly when he gets frustrated by your refusal to allow him in and is tired of standing in the cold.  He tells you that he thinks this would go a lot easier down at the station.  He even offers to give you a lift in his squad car.  What should you do?

First and foremost, unless he's ready to arrest you, you have no obligation to go to the station to answer any questions.  You may certainly choose to do so, but you are not required to go with the officer.  He may phrase the request as a statement by saying something along the lines of "Why don't we hop in the car and head down to the station to finish this up."  Don't be fooled by the officer's wording.  Unless he's ready to slap cuffs on you and arrest you for committing the crime, he is asking you if you'd like to go with him.  As always, being polite is important here, but be firm in your decision.  The officer will use different techniques to try to convince you to come with him.  Be strong.  If you don't want to go, don't go.

If you don't mind going to the station to speak with police, it's completely acceptable to head "downtown," so to speak.  There are a few things I would recommend before agreeing to this, however.

1)  Refuse to ride with the officer.  If he gives you a ride down there, he (or someone else) is going to have to drive you back.  Take your own vehicle so that if at any point you become uncomfortable with the line of questioning you are 100% free to leave.  You're free to leave the station at any point as long as you're not being detained, but if you don't have means of transportation at your disposal, you're at the mercy of whether the officer feels like returning you home.  He's under no obligation to do so.  Avoid the walk of shame.  Follow the officer in your car instead of riding with him.

2)  On the way to the station, contact an attorney.  Have the number to a local, qualified criminal defense lawyer before you leave the house and make the call while on the road (doing so within the law in your jurisdiction, of course).  Tell the attorney the situation, that you're heading downtown to answer questions right now, and find out whether he or she will be able to meet you there if anything unforeseen happens.  The attorney may offer to meet you down there immediately.  Whether or not you decide to agree to this is up to your best judgment, but having a lawyer by your side the whole time couldn't hurt.  You'll pay for this time, but if it keeps you from saying something incriminating or answering a question you really should answer, it'll be well worth it.

3)  As long as questions remain focused on what you heard, saw, or have been told regarding the incident in question, you should feel free to answer questions.  If, however, questions turn to queries regarding your whereabouts on the day in question, whether you have any actual knowledge of the incident, or whether you were involved in the crime, it's time to clam up.  The only reason an officer would ask questions like this is if they have reason to believe you were involved, or they are looking for a reason to believe you were involved.  In either case, it's best not to confirm their suspicions.  If your lawyer isn't present, state to the officer that you won't be answering any more questions for him or any other officer unless you are in the presence of your attorney.  If your attorney is not available at that moment, ask the officer if you are free to leave.  If he says that you are, get up and walk out the door.  Your conversation with police is over for now.

The main thing to remember in this situation is that giving your side of the story isn't going to save you from anything.  In the history of time, I'm not sure a suspect offering his account of the situation has ever prevented anyone from being charged with a crime.  If the police have enough evidence to charge you, they will.  Nothing you say will change their mind.  The only effect talking will have is to give them extra ammunition with which to support their charge and the prosecutions case against you.  Why give them that?  By demanding your Minnesota criminal defense attorney be by your side during any questioning sessions, you ensure that you will have the guidance to help you avoid saying something you shouldn't.  I know that, since most people are law abiding citizens, having an attorney present any time you speak with police seems like overkill.  Trust me, you won't hold that belief for long once you've been through the ringer.  Most people think talking to police is no big deal, but when folks get in front of an authority figure who is speaking to them in an accusatory manner, that confidence can go out the window quickly.  Having an attorney who has been through this process time and time again will be a huge assist in the process.  Don't let your pride get in the way of your rights.

If you or a loved one choose to go to the police station to speak with detectives regarding a crime, call or email a Minnesota defense lawyer and ask for their assistance.

As always, all material contained within this website is intended for entertainment purposes, only.  It is not intended to act as legal advice or advertising, and in no way does it create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.  If you have questions regarding a criminal law matter, contact a criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction to give you specific assistance.

Coming Monday, April 16th:  Know Your Rights, Pt. 4:  Stopped in Public

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