Preparing for a Police Interrogation

Modern police work has, to a very large extent, come to focus on two things–interrogations and forensics.  Its logical that it would be this way.  Scientific evidence is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to refute.  And while studies have shown that statements of a person accused of a crime are much less reliable than, say, DNA evidence, they have unrivaled persuasive power.  A person saying they committed a crime is often the centerpiece of the State’s case.  Fighting over whether that statement can be presented to the jury is often the focus of a defense case.

Statements are powerful and the techniques the police have at their disposal to get statements are equally powerful.  Yet, most people are completely unaware of these tools.

First, and most powerfully, the police are allowed to lie and trick people during interrogations.  For example, in Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 US 492 (1977) the police told a suspect that they had his fingerprints from the scene.  He confessed.  As it turned out, they lied about the fingerprints.  On review, the US Supreme Court held that police can lie, with only a few exceptions, to people during interrogations.  Police lying in an interrogation is so common that New Hampshire even has a passage about it in the standard jury instruction on statements of people accused of a crime.

Second, police use proven, powerful techniques to extract information.  Time and again, in cases where people were exonerated by DNA evidence, they were found to have “confessed.”  This seems so counter-intuitive–why would innocent people confess?  The reality is that police are trained in scientifically proven methods of getting information from people.  And these methods are so powerful that they can, and have, resulted in wholly innocent people confessing to crimes they did not commit.  In fact, the Innocence Project statistics show that 25% of ALL people exonerated by DNA have made confessions.

Third, and most simply, police can withhold information from people during an interrogation.  They only need to tell people part of the story, or show them some of the evidence.  They do not need to provide them with everything or tell people the weak parts of their case.  This, combined with an almost unlimited capacity for deception, gives the police a huge advantage in an interrogation.  Imagine if you were playing poker with an opponent that could both add cards whenever they wanted.  That’s a game you don’t want to bet on.

So what can you do if you are faced with a police interrogation?  Most people want to just tell the police what happened, thinking that doing so could set them free.  That impulse is one of the things the police use to get people to talk.  You don’t know why they have come to talk to you, even if they give you a reason (remember, they are legally permitted to lie), and so you don’t actually know what they want to hear.  One of your statements that you think is perfectly innocent may make you a suspect.

If you are arrested and at the station, the best thing is to ask for a lawyer and then tell them you don’t want to talk until you have a lawyer.  The law says that should end the interrogation.  If the police haven’t arrested you yet, call a lawyer immediately.  In my career I have helped many people deal with the interrogation dilemma.  We can help you avoid the interrogation, or, if it is in your best interest (which sometimes happens) we can prepare you for the interrogation.

In a world where there are more restrictions on what car dealers can say and promise to people than there are on what police can do in an interrogation, you need to arm yourself when preparing for an interrogation.  Ask for a lawyer or bring one with you.

If you need help contact me at asculimbrene@comcast.net or (603) 318-0450.

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