The Interview

You’ve survived a deadly or violent encounter and have been confronted by the police or other law enforcement officers, who at this point are trying to gather answers and other information about the incident so that they can close their case. You must remember that not all cases or investigations result in criminal charges being filed and as long as you were justified in using force to defend yourself, and as long as the information you provide is truthful, it is unlikely that any charges will be filed against you.

NEVER, EVER, EVER underestimate the power of politics however, and the influence of the news media on a case. Part of your trial, that of ‘public opinion’ begins now. As the news media begins to report on the incident, if that occurs, the public will begin to form its own opinion of your guilt or innocence based largely on what information they receive from the news media. You can’t prevent this but you can minimize the damage by being aware of what you say and the way you act in front of others, especially when the media is present (more on media later). The most important aspect of this phase of the investigation, however, is your interview that is about to be conducted by law enforcement.

By this point you should have already made your brief statement of fact as discussed earlier, now come the questions about specific aspects of the incident. These questions can seem pointless, but every question asked by “trained” investigators has a purpose. Sometimes that purpose might be to lure you into admitting guilt or involvement at some level. There are some important things to remember here: 1) contrary to what you see on TV, many police officers are not gun enthusiasts and many even believe that only the police should have guns; 2) it is the investigators job to collect evidence; trained investigators use a variety of techniques to obtain this information; 3) contrary to what you may see on TV the police are not always required to “read you your rights;” 4) YOU HAVE RIGHTS and it is your responsibility to protect them.

Let’s talk more about your rights, or what people seem to think is a mandatory reading of your rights when the police contact you or arrest you. These “rights”, commonly referred to as your ‘Miranda Rights’, are a list of rights that stem from a US Supreme Court decision (Miranda v. Arizona). You’re probably familiar with them, but essentially they include your right to remain silent and have an attorney present with you during questioning. The important thing here is the level of custody that you have been placed in by law enforcement, because Miranda only kicks in during cases where you are not free to leave – that is you have been arrested or detained and you cannot simply get up and walk out. Keep in mind the police don’t have to tell you that you’re free to leave. So, when in doubt, ASK. More importantly, however, before answering any questions beyond your initial statement of fact, ASK FOR AN ATTORNEY.

Invoking your right to have an attorney present may seem intimidating, and is likely to be met with some hostility from the police. I’ve actually heard investigators make the statement, “If you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t need an attorney.” These statements from investigators actually disgust me and have for most of my time as a police officer. If invoking your right to an attorney is somehow a ‘dirty’ thing or considered to be taboo, then why is it that when a police officer is involved in a shooting, or other violent encounter, oftentimes the first thing they do afterward is ask for their lawyer and/or union representative before they even talk to their own supervisors? Because it’s the smart thing to do, that’s why! My point is that you don’t want to let the police intimidate you into not asking for an attorney.

So, now you’re being interviewed. These interviews can be conducted in a variety of ways, from as simple as you sitting at an investigators desk or in a police car, to actually being placed inside an interrogation room complete with audio/visual recording and maybe even a mirrored wall. You must remember, if you choose to make a statement of any kind it is being recorded and once you say something it can’t be unsaid. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to have an attorney present with you if you choose to make any type of statement even if it is a written description of what happened. Many investigators will use the written statement method of getting information from you as a way to get you to open up because it may feel less intimidating than sitting in a room answering questions.

Another issue that I’ve had come up during interviews is when an attorney shows up at the police department demanding to see his or her client. While this looks cool and adds lots of drama on TV cop shows, in reality it doesn’t work that way. If you find yourself stuck in a room being asked questions and you know, or even think, that your attorney is on the way, don’t even begin to think that they have some magical power that will stop the interview just because the attorney demands it. No, what actually has to happen is that you have to stop or delay the interview and verbally demand your attorney. Your attorney CANNOT invoke your rights for you, you have to do it yourself! Now, your attorney can rant and rave or threaten the police with legal action of all types, but it is all just a dramatic show, at least until you demand to speak with your attorney. It is also important that you remember once you ask for an attorney, don’t answer any questions or provide any information until an attorney has been provided.

There is no way to determine before hand what questions or what tactics will be used by investigators to gather information from you during your interview. There is no tactic that will protect you if you have used a weapon illegally. That’s not why I offer you this information. I offer it to help protect yourself in the event you have legally defended yourself. Remember this, the interview process and how much information you provide the police is the only part of the investigation that you have any control over. Use your head, protect your rights, and let the police do their job. If you were justified in using force the evidence will determine so, but words you provide without thought, or without the advice of an attorney, can cause you problems both in court and in the media. BE SAFE, BE SMART, and BE SECURE.

The First Hour After

BANG! BANG! BANG! You’ve just defended yourself from a knife wielding (or any other dangerous weapon) bad guy who was intent on hurting you while you were walking to your car in the parking lot (or possibly even inside your home). Congratulations, you were prepared to do what needed to be done to protect you and anyone who might have been with you. Most likely though, you aren’t prepared for what is coming next.

To begin with, your body has just had what is probably the most intense adrenaline dump it has ever experienced and there are some physiological things that you’re going to notice over the next several minutes to several hours. We may each find that our bodies handle the stress differently, so what I describe here are effects that have been described by different people who have been involved in violent encounters. Your body has done the first part by handling the adrenaline dump and allowing your brain to start the defensive process that allowed you to defeat your opponent. You’ll probably start to feel light headed or as if you are viewing everything through a fog. This can be different from the tunnel vision that you might have experienced during the encounter as your brain kicked in and focused on your opponent and the weapon he or she was intent on using against you. As you start to notice this fog you may begin to feel dizzy and you might even notice that your breathing and heart rate are elevated; you’re possibly even getting weak in the knees and may have the feeling that you need to puke your guts up. These are all normal reactions experienced by many people who have survived an attack.

At this point, you must force yourself to remember that just because you’ve put your opponent down doesn’t mean he or she is completely out of the fight, or may not have friends or accomplices nearby that might continue the assault. You may find that you feel like you need to walk around to clear your head, but this is not advisable under the circumstances. You’ll be better off at this point to put your back to something solid, like a wall or a vehicle. Doing so will ensure that your back is protected and lessen the opportunity for other bad guys to come up behind you. It will also allow you to keep tabs on your bad guy to make sure that he doesn’t get up to hurt you. If possible, sit down, this will help alleviate the weak knee feeling and allow your body to start returning to a normal condition (i.e. breathing, heart rate, vision, etc).
Sitting down also helps you when the police arrive. It is important that you remember, you have no green light showing over your head that alerts the police that you are the good guy. You’re about to be treated like a suspect –  that is, you’re about to have guns pointed at you and be placed prone on the ground and handcuffed with your hands behind your back….DO NOT resist this…DO NOT take it personal. The police also have a desire to protect themselves and go home at the end of their shifts to their families. This, coupled with the fact that they have no idea who the good guy is and who the bad guy is, requires that they treat everyone like a suspect initially.

After the scene is secured the police should give you the opportunity to make a statement (more on this later) as they sort out the facts of what happened. You can expect to be taken to the police department for questioning and possibly booked into jail and required to post a bond before you may be released. It is important here that you remember it isn’t the responsibility of the patrol officer to prove your innocence or the guilt of the other guy, rather it’s the patrol officer’s responsibility to gather evidence that supports the probable cause required to make arrests or initiate further investigation. Whether you are arrested or not, buckle down, you’ve got a long night ahead of you.

You’re going to be confronted and questioned by several different police officers who are going to try to intimidate you into saying what they think needs to be said before they can close their case. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between the responsibility of the police to serve the citizenry and the actions of the police. This is not to say that all cops will act this way but many of them seem to forget that you have rights provided to you by the US Constitution and that the police have the responsibility to protect those rights.

As I said earlier, you’re going to be asked to make a statement. This will likely be when the patrol officer says, “Can you tell me what happened?” You need to take this opportunity to make a brief statement of fact, something like, “he came at me with a knife and I drew my weapon and shot him.” Such a statement is fact and, if true, will not harm your defense, despite what your attorney might tell you. If you simply refuse to speak, you will, in all likelihood, be arrested because all the police have to go on are the facts before them, a weapon with your prints and a dead or severely injured suspect. Remember, however, I’m talking about a brief statement of fact, not an admission of all the details of the case. Once you make your brief statement, invoke your right to remain silent and RESPECTFULLY advise the police that you would like to speak with your attorney before answering any other questions. Keep in mind you will still be required to answer questions that pertain to your personal identification (name, address, date of birth, etc.), but after you invoke your right to an attorney don’t answer any other questions about the case.

If you’re arrested don’t panic, this doesn’t mean you’re guilty, it just means the police where you’re located are doing what they are told by the higher ups. You will be given the opportunity to post bail and after you’re released you can seek out an attorney. The most important thing is that you (and possibly your family) are ALIVE.

In the next post I will talk more in depth on the questioning process and what you can expect. Until then take care!