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.