Why innocent people should never talk to the police.

Saw a couple of really fascinating videos over at Bruce Schneier’s blog by Professor James Duane of the Regent University School of Law about why in a criminal matter you should never ever talk to the police or any other government agent without a lawyer. Guilty or innocent, it doesn’t matter, nothing you say can help you.

Here’s Professor Duane’s video:

Followed by an equally fascinating video featuring George Bruch from the Virginia Beach police department who basically tells you that everything the Professor said is true:

I’m fortunate in that my dealings with the police have been few and very far between. The last encounter was when I unsuccessfully tried to turn left back in November of 2003 and, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have said much to the police, but I did and I was convicted and fined for “failure to yield to oncoming traffic” despite the fact that the people that hit me were running the light. Granted it’s a misdemeanor traffic accident and not a murder trial, but I probably would’ve fared better had I invoked my right to not self-incriminate. I don’t foresee ever being in a position where I’d be under suspicion on more serious charges, but then life is unpredictable so these videos make for some very compelling education just the same.

Bonus points for the repeated lesson that “people are stupid.”

17 thoughts on “Why innocent people should never talk to the police.

  1. Having working in a jail (and, oddly enough, having lived in VA. Beach, but that’s another story) I can say the best advice I’ve ever had was to tell the cops where the evidence is and you’ll say nothing else till you speak with legal council. I can’t tell you how many “smart” people I booked in who ended up hanging themselves with the booking camera footage.

    Then again, I also met the exceptions to the rules, the guilty man, the man who was framed and the guy who knew the judge! An educational experience all around.  cheese

  2. Lawyer says ‘Hire Lawyers’

    Also in today’s advice- “Ask the barber if you need a haircut”.

    A freind who is a QC once took the bait when I asked a couple ‘simple questions’.

    Lawyers are one of the great ‘professions’.  How professional are they, given in an adversarial system half of them are wrong.  What other profession, career or job rewards being wrong half the time?

    If they lose, why are they not charged with obstruction of justice/aiding and abetting after the fact or (prosecution) attempted false imprisonment?

    Henry VI Part 2 Act 4 scene 2.

  3. Thanks for that Les, great viewing.

    Man, that is a seriously depressing video.

    DOF, how so? Because the cops try to play the system? Well, criminals do so too…


    Lawyers are one of the great ‘professions’.  How professional are they, given in an adversarial system half of them are wrong.

    You know, doctors don’t do shit either – ALL their patients die eventually anyway!

    The system isn’t totally adversarial (cases involving certaiin crimes obviously may be more so than less emotive ones) and even where it is, both sides play an important role. Certainly better than putting it all on the judge or the jury (with no prosecuters or defence attorneys).

    The lawyer isn’t at fault – he’s just doing his best to make some money for himself (capitalism, remember?) and defend his client so that said person gets the best and hopefully fairest deal. If you want to complain about lawyers, complain about those who go into politics and constantly pass new laws.

  4. The lawyer isn’t at fault – he’s just doing his best to make some money for himself

    And if that means helping a lunatic get back into society on a technicality then so be it.

  5. And if that means helping a lunatic get back into society on a technicality then so be it.

    If you think that lawyers do not face moral quandaries, you are sadly mistaken.  That aside, I’m curious are you suggesting that lawyers should engage in malfeasance by breaching the duty of loyalty they owe each of their clients by “taking a fall” for what you believe would be justice?

  6. And if that means helping a lunatic get back into society on a technicality then so be it.

    Technicalities are there for a reason. If I were ever on trial I’d certainly hope that none of my ‘technical’ rights were violated.

  7. If you think that lawyers do not face moral quandaries

    You know the person committed a violent crime. Do you try to keep him out of prison?

  8. You know the person committed a violent crime. Do you try to keep him out of prison?

    Yes. If you’ve gone off an became a defense lawyer you’re morally obligated to provide everyone, no matter what they’ve done or not done, the same level of expertise and effort in trying to achieve justice, no matter what your personal feelings are about your client.

  9. DOF:

    It’s depressing because it reveals the cops aren’t that interested in who actually committed the crime.  They want to convict someone.

    Welcome to the real world. I have personal knowledge of police acting exactly this way. That’s why our rights are so important. The Bill of Rights was approved by the people because it limited the power government could have in our personal life, but if we roll over and give that power, or any power,  to government, we get the kind of government we deserve. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”—Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884)

  10. They want to convict someone.

    That is – NOT cynically speaking – what they are hired by society for.

    You know the person committed a violent crime. Do you try to keep him out of prison?

    You try to get him a fair trial. That is your duty, not to keep him out of prison. The judgement is NOT done by the defense attorney OR the prosecutor.

  11. Our western justice system is adversarial – prosecutor / police try to convict, defense attorney / accused try to go free, and the judge / jury decides the what and how much.

    Like most of our social systems, it is far from perfect – but it is, in my mind, far better than any others I know. It grew out of democratic and individual liberty philosophies (as opposed to the king or local chief making the call as he liked) and tries to create a social mechanic which creates justice more often than injustice. And almost even more important, tries to prevent extremes of injustice by appeal, by spreading the decision, and by instituting rules of process.

    The left-wing complaints I hear about this system make me think that the public defender system needs to be improved more urgently than the justice system as such. Because where the system fals is where people with more money and resources can game it, while poor people fall through the cracks. Countries where attorneys cannot be paid more or less depending on their client’s pockets are on the right path, I think.

  12. You try to get him a fair trial. That is your duty, not to keep him out of prison

    Who do you think gets hired- the lawyer who is good at keeping people out of prison, or the one who ensures a fair trial?  Is “Playing the race card, and playing it from the bottom of the pile.” ensuring a fair trial, or biasing it?

    I am not actually saying deny a defence, despite what I may be suggesting.  What annoys me is those who put their client above justice, which is always going to happen in a atmosphere of hiring by results.

    There is a solicitor in Britain who defends celebrities (they have to be celebrities because of the fees) on driving charges.  He doesn’t try and prove innocence, he looks for loopholes and minor inaccuracies in the arrest. If some one hit a close family member, witnessed by independent people, no question of guilt, but the driver got let off because the arresting officer made a minor error that didn’t affect the case, how would you feel.  The judge can’t say ‘we’re interested in justice, not the Law’.  The lawyer in question attitude is “shouldn’t make mistakes”.  Note I am not talking a miscarriage of justice, but a minor inconsequential proceedure point.

    As to the story re the sex harrassment case.  Why did the LAWYER walk out an interview room with no 3rd party evidence of the interview? He may well have been innocent, I am prepared to believe he was, but I wonder why he missed something so basic.  In the UK that interview would be taped on 2 cassettes simultaneously- one to the police, one to the suspect. Yet he had nothing, no written statement.  Possibly a good thing for future clients he was dis-barred!  Alternatively there is a record of the interview, and the speaker is being some what economical with the truth.

  13. I’m with Ingolfson on this one. Our system is far from perfect, but it’s still the best I’ve seen so far. I think his idea on how to help balance out the defense any particular client receives aren’t a bad idea either.

    LH, the lawyers that game the system on technicalities illustrates the need to pass good legislation free from knee-jerk emotionalism. Too often laws are written and passed in the heat of the moment without considering the unintended consequences and that’s where a lot of trouble starts.

    As pointed out in this video there are over 10,000 laws in force in any given area of the United States. There’s no way in hell people aren’t breaking some of them on a daily basis and the only reason they’re not being sent to jail on it is because the police either aren’t anymore aware of said law than the citizens are or they don’t consider it worth their time to enforce.

    That’s a bad way to do things and those stupid and out of date laws should be repealed, but good luck getting that done. Once on the books it can be difficult if not impossible to remove a law. One of the earliest entries I wrote was about how I was a criminal for swearing around my wife and daughter.

  14. Lyndon Johnson said that legislators should spend most of their time thinking about how proposed legislation can be misused, rather than focusing on how it is intended to be used.  Sounds like good advice.

    It seems harsh to let a bad guy walk on a technicality, but it is the only way known to man to get police to even nod in the direction of following the rules.

  15. Lyndon Johnson said that legislators should spend most of their time thinking about how proposed legislation can be misused,

    I think politicans should spend a heck more time rifling through old laws and going “Hey, we don’t need THAT one anymore!… This one is covered under a new law we wrote last year, why do we still have THIS?!? Heck, I didn’t know THAT one existed…”

    But cleaning up is never as glamorous as “acting” to do something.

    It seems harsh to let a bad guy walk on a technicality, but it is the only way known to man to get police to even nod in the direction of following the rules.

    I recently read that some US legislatures/courts are considering that evidence seized through unlawful means (such as a cache of drugs and weapons found through an illegal search of your house) may become admissible again.

    While the US is apparently one of the strictest countries worldwide in excluding unlawfully attained evidence (while the rest of the western world isn’t, yet doesn’t seem to have much more police rules breaches because of it) it may not exactly be the end of the world for the US if this gets changed to some degree, but somehow it worried me. With the US government making all kinds of hidden searches legal in the first place, it would be preferable if the illegal ones stayed illegal at least.

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