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Handling a police interview

A common question that comes up in the criminal defense arena is what to do if the police or other law enforcement officers contact an individual to schedule an interview during a criminal investigation. The simple answer to this is not to schedule an interview without an attorney present.  There are a number of reasons for this.

Generally, in this situation, law enforcement asks you to come to one of the precinct offices or other locations where they have a meeting room.  These meeting rooms are generally recorded, though this is not always disclosed to you during the interview.  In situations where the interviews are not recorded, the information provided by the person being interviewed can potentially be misunderstood or misinterpreted by a law enforcement officer.

Additionally, law enforcement officers are legally allowed to lie to a citizen during these interviews, while a private citizen can be charged with various crimes for lying to law enforcement.  For example, law enforcement can tell a person that their fingerprints are at a crime scene, when there are none, or that someone else has confessed and implicated them, when that is not true, or even that witnesses saw things, when there are no witnesses. These types of comments can confuse an individual who is otherwise being honest, or lead to statements being made out of context, which could result in charges being taken against an individual.

Some law enforcement officers who request interviews have already made the decision to charge an individual, and are trying to get one last opportunity to have the person come in and make statements before they are formally arrested. They will use the opportunity to get additional information to use against the person and to get them to a location where they can arrest the person without any warning.

Another potential hazard of meeting with law enforcement is that nothing law enforcement officers say to an individual, such as agreements of leniency or the types of charges or sentence that an individual may receive, is binding on an individual’s case.  Only prosecutors have the ability to make binding agreements with an individual, or their attorney, about what will be prosecuted or what types of sentences might be recommended in a given case.

In most of the instances where officers are about to conduct an interview, they will also read the individual they are interviewing their rights, which include: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.  You have the right to an attorney during questioning, and if you are found to be indigent, an attorney may be appointed to represent you.”  However, most people choose to waive these rights and speak with law enforcement anyway.  Law enforcement does not read an individual these rights as a courtesy, but because the law requires it in some instances.  The law requires the reading of these rights because of the long lasting consequences that can come from saying something to law enforcement that is used against a person.  Even when officers do not read a person these rights, it is not safe to assume they are not investigating that person.

Having an attorney prior to scheduling an interview with law enforcement can protect an individual by having the attorney assess whether they believe the person is at risk of being charged.  The attorney can contact law enforcement or prosecutors on the individual’s behalf to determine if it makes sense to move forward with the meeting.  If it does make sense to move forward with the meeting, an attorney can be present at the meeting to help make sure the person being interviewed has all their rights protected.  In the event that it appears charges will be filed against the person, an attorney may be able to work with law enforcement to schedule a mutually convenient date, time, and location for the person to turn themselves in, with a plan to get the person out of jail  as quickly as possible.

When selecting a law firm to represent a person in a situation like this, the person should make sure the law firm deals with cases that have not been charged yet on a regular basis.  Having a team familiar with cases that are at this stage in the process can help the person who may be under investigation get the best outcome.