One thing you will hear over and over from Oceanside defense lawyers is that you should never talk to the police without your attorney present. Often cops will try to convince you that you will look guilty if you don’t talk to them or cooperate with them. You may even believe, thanks to tv tropes, that if you don’t cooperate with the police that they can charge you with obstruction of justice. But you always have the right to remain silent and you are not legally required to cooperate with the police.
Considering Working With the Police?
While you should never talk to, let alone cooperate with, the cops without your Oceanside criminal attorney present, it’s not always a terrible idea. In deciding whether or not you should help the police, here are some things you should keep in mind:
- Police can lie to you. It’s illegal to lie to the police, but the law doesn’t stop the police from lying to you. That means they can say they won’t arrest you or that cooperating will help you, but they can still choose to arrest you later and they have no reason to believe that your cooperating will help anyone but themselves.
- Officers have relatively little power. On that same note, an officer may promise not to arrest you and actually mean it, but while that may matter in a minor crime like trespassing or reckless driving, most crimes involve the greater police department and District Attorney, who have no reason to honor the promises of one officer. The police or DA can always put out a warrant for your arrest after your initial meeting with the officer who promised not to arrest you.
- Police don’t decide whether to charge someone. Some people mistakenly think that by helping the police, the police won’t press charges against them. But the DA is the one who decides whether or not to press charges, which is why any discussion regarding immunity or the dropping of charges should always involve your Oceanside criminal lawyer and the DA.
- You don’t have to be a suspect to give police information that hurts your case. People often believe they only need to watch what they say when police identify them as a suspect, but investigators often build their suspect list by talking to people in informal interviews. You should always have a lawyer present when speaking to the police, even when they approach you as a witness or else you may risk saying something that could make you a suspect.
- Cooperating often involves admitting guilt. Granted, this doesn’t apply in some murder or kidnapping cases where you are actually innocent and are just trying to help the police find the person responsible (though you still should still have an attorney present in these cases), but if you’re helping them identify a drug king pin, you’re probably admitting you sell drugs yourself. Once you admit guilt, you cannot take it back.
- Immunity is a difficult and risky process. The first step of an immunity deal usually involves what’s called a proffer, in which you describe the information you could provide to investigators if the immunity deal is completed. Until the immunity deal is completed, you can still be charged with these crimes and though what you say cannot be used against you, investigators can use your testimony to uncover evidence against you.
- Cooperating can be risky. Obviously if you have to perform some kind of undercover work to help police secure a conviction you’ll risk getting caught, but even if you just provide testimony, you could face retribution from those you incriminated.
- Cooperation contract restrictions. If you cooperate, your lawyer and the District Attorney will negotiate a written cooperation agreement outlining your rights and obligations. Committing new crimes will always void the cooperation agreement, leaving you in serious legal trouble.
What to Do if You Decide Not to Cooperate
You may have the right not to cooperate, but it’s important to do so properly. If you refuse to speak to the police, always invoke your Fifth Amendment rights. While you can choose not to answer questions, be sure not to lie to the police because this is considered obstruction of justice because it can make it more difficult for investigators to solve a crime.
If police have asked you to cooperate with their investigation, call Oceanside defense attorney Peter M. Liss to discuss your options. You can schedule a free initial consultation at any time by calling (760) 643-4050.
Image by Josh Hild