Speaking To Police

Should You Talk to the Police?

Although Police are people just like the rest of us, they do have a special relationship to the rest of the population, which those not in law enforcement do not have: they enforce the laws by investigating crime, effecting arrests of suspects, and assisting the prosecution in bringing the charge(s) before the Court. As our U.S. Supreme Court has correctly pointed out, our law enforcement officers are "in the business of ferreting out crime." In the process of this investigation and while looking for evidence of a crime, police officers, detectives, investigators, and agents, will question individuals in the hopes of obtaining witnesses, suspects, admissions or confessions. This questioning may occur at the scene of the crime, it may occur out in public, it may take place in one’s home or place of business, and of course it may happen at the police station.

When it’s OK to Talk and When it’s Not

There are some instances where it is actually beneficial to talk to police officers, such as when one is either the victim of a crime, or an immediate witness to a crime, or when one is lost and needs directions, or when one’s car is broken down on the side of the road. There are many others as well, but the idea is that when you know for a fact that it is to your benefit to talk to police, without even the most remote possibility that you are being investigated for a crime, go ahead and talk freely. However, where police are initiating the conversation with you, whether or not you may have done anything "wrong," you should seriously question whether or not to speak to them.

If You’re Not a Suspect Why Do They Want to Talk?

Here is the main problem: police are not required to place you under arrest prior to any questioning. In fact, police prefer NOT to arrest you before questioning you. In fact, police would prefer to NOT tell you that you are in any way the focus of an investigation. Instead, they will try to lure you into a questioning scenario that they hope will turn into a full-on interrogation, resulting in your damning admissions or confessions to a criminal act and then use those statements as evidence directly against you in Court.

How does this usually work? A crime is committed, and in the investigative process, police begin to focus on you. They contact you by showing up at your house, or at your job, or even by just calling you on your phone. They identify themselves, they tell you they are investigating the offense, that your name came up in the investigation as someone who may have been there, and may have information relevant to their case, and they just want to ask you a few questions. They assure you that you are not a suspect, that you are not being arrested, and that no charges are being contemplated against you.

Miranda Who?

You are under no obligation whatsoever to go to a police station, except when you are under arrest, and you are being transported there. The reason that the police do not want to arrest you first is that they are then obligated to read to you what has become known to everyone who watches TV or movies as the Miranda warnings. They must tell a custodial suspect (see our other topic about what it means to be "under arrest") that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say may (meaning will) be used against them in Court, that they have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and that one will be appointed for them by the Court if they cannot afford one. Instead, the police prefer to bring you in "voluntarily", so that they may question you freely without anything pesky like your rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments to our Constitution getting in the way.

The Interrogation Begins

Your first clue that you may be in some trouble will be the location at the station where you are taken. If you are brought into a room with no windows looking to the outside world (an atrium inside a police station does not qualify as the outside world), with a table, a few chairs, no phone, and what looks like a mirror, make no mistake, you are in an interrogation room. The room is likely wired for sound, and there is a hidden camera recording everything you say or do in the room, even in the absence of an officer. You may notice the room is rather chilly. You may be left sitting alone in the room for a significant period of time before anyone comes to talk to you. The purpose of all of this is to take you away from any of your "comfort zones", to isolate you, and to make you physically uncomfortable and nervous.

The Human Lie Detector

The questioning starts out in a non-confrontational tone. The officer asks you questions that will try to put you at ease, so that you will be lulled into a false sense of security, and open up freely. The officer will allow you to give a narrative of what happened, and may ask questions to flesh out details. Even though you may be completely truthful with the officer, and offer up what is an innocent account of your activities that do not involve you in the alleged crime, the officer is not swayed. You are there specifically because you are a suspect, and every effort will be made to obtain your confession. Many investigators are trained in what is referred to as the "Reid Technique" of interrogation, and at its core is the concept that when a person lies, they give off certain clues (or "tells" for the poker players out there), and when those clues are present, the person is lying. So, essentially, these officers have been trained to believe that they are human lie detectors.

Stop Talking and Demand a Lawyer

The fact is, lie detector machines are not deemed reliable enough to be utilized in court as scientific evidence, and there is no exception for human lie detectors. There have been many studies by scientists of late that have shown the numerous fallacies behind the theory and use in the field of the so called "tells", because not all people react the same way to questioning. What may be a clue for some people will in no way be a clue for others. These studies have borne out that a so called trained professional from the Reid school is no better than Joe off the street at figuring out who’s a liar and who is not. Nevertheless, the Reid students are trained that, when they see these tells, they must switch the mood from non-confrontational to interrogative/accusatory mode. When this happens, you may not even notice at first, because you are focused on satisfying the investigators so that you can leave and go home. But if you are perceptive enough to notice the change in tone, stop answering questions, and demand to speak to a lawyer. All too often, people think that they can talk their way out of a situation, and instead, talk their way into the situation.

You Will Be Questioned Until You Confess

There are no set limits at present as to how long police may carry on an interrogation, other than the 72 hour limit that they may hold you before they must charge you or release you. Police are not required to be truthful with you when questioning you. They are not only permitted to lie to you about their information and evidence against you, they are trained to do so. As one officer once testified in court: "we tell untruths to uncover truths." They will lie to you about the existence of eyewitnesses, video surveillance, physical evidence, confessions of other individuals that implicate you, and anything else that they can throw at you to break down your will of resistance. They will hit you with emotional pleas, false offers of leniency, and they will suggest to you that "you didn’t really mean it", that it was a mistake, or you acted under some provocation, or even acted justifiably under the circumstances. They will use the isolation and discomfort of the room, and position you so that you are cornered and the only way out is through them. Then they will work on you until you give them what they want. All the while, they are treating you physically well. They are not beating you, they are feeding you (OK, it is greasy take out, but you are being fed), they will let you smoke, they let you drink water or soda, they will let you use the bathroom. What they do not let you do is leave, or phone a friend or a loved one. Unless and until you demand a lawyer, or assert your right to remain silent, they will continue to question you, to pressure you into giving the "right" answers, until they obtain the evidence they need from your own mouth.

Do Not Lie to the Police and Obstruct Justice

By the way, in case you may have actually done the thing that they are investigating, and you think you can lie your way out, be warned. There is no crime in remaining silent, although it is a crime to openly lie to a police officer conducting an investigation and this is called Obstruction of Justice, which may be a felony. If the police can establish your lies, you may find yourself going to jail for that, in addition to whatever else they may have against you. Those lies may be used to show actual consciousness of guilt of the underlying investigation, and you may have just given them the evidence that they otherwise would not have had. But if you remain absolutely silent, except to say "I assert my 5th Amendment Right to remain silent", or to say, "I want a Lawyer", then you have added nothing to their investigation, and if they lack enough evidence to charge you absent your confession, you will ultimately be released, until such time as the police and prosecution believe they have a case that will succeed in court.

Reach Out to an Experienced Chicago Criminal Attorney

Whether or not you are under arrest, and whether or not you are being investigated personally for a crime, when the police contact you to say "can you come in and answer a few questions for us," you need an attorney by your side during any such questioning so that your Constitutional Rights will be protected. You need the lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. We have office locations in Arlington Heights and Chicago as well as appointments in other cities near you. Call us today at (800) 996-4824 for an absolutely free, absolutely confidential, office consultation with an experienced Chicago criminal defense lawyer and let us help you.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : May 20, 2020