Don’t Talk to Police
“Don’t talk to police” is a phrase that I repeat to family, friends, clients, even non-criminal clients. I have admonished people before to heed this advice. Previously, I provided a helpful video from Law School Professor James Duane.
Prof. Duane addressed this issue again in a short LA Times editorial. His words reminding everyone why you should teach your children the same:
In Oakland, police isolated and interrogated a 16-year-old named Felix in the middle of the night without a lawyer and denied his requests to see his mother. Eventually he gave them a detailed, videotaped confession to a murder, allegedly filled with numerous specifics only the real killer would have known. . . . [I]t was later revealed that he had an airtight alibi: He had been locked up in a juvenile detention facility the day of the killing. The charges were dismissed, and he was released from jail.
Consider if Felix had a less than airtight alibi? Do you have faith the system would have figured it out? How many years lost trying to rectify the wrong?
False Confessions are Real
I often hear some variation of “a suspect should talk to the police if they have nothing to hide.” Common sense suggests that the innocent should have nothing to fear. The reality is quite different. False confessions are real. One study showed that of 340 people later exonerated, thirteen percent (13%) of adults had given false confessions.
The scholarly article “Exonerations in the United States from 1989 through 2003,” supports these findings. The article, published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, found that of two hundred five (205) wrongful murder convictions, twenty percent (20%) involved false confessions.
You Can’t Explain Your Way Out
And the longer you talk the deeper hole you dig:
One analysis of 44 proven false-confession cases revealed that more than a third of the interrogations lasted six to 12 hours, many lasted between 12 and 24 hours, and the average length was more than 16 hours.
Furthermore, jurors’ attitudes makes this advice more important. Many jurors feel that a defendant should prove their innocence. They hold this perspective despite judges’ admonitions to the contrary. Leaving aside how our legal system morphed into a caricature, this shift in perspective poses a conundrum. Consider, how can a defendant, who provided a false confession, convince a jury that his/her own words to law enforcement should be ignored? If you didn’t speak, you must be hiding something. If you gave a confession to professionals trained to extract confessions, you are lying now.
Think Through the Counterfactual
If you remain unconvinced consider the opposite approach – imagine speaking to the police. Now, what has been gained? If the police have sufficient evidence they will arrest you. If they lack sufficient evidence they will (usually) not arrest you. How does speaking to them help?
Armed with this knowledge that 1) false confessions occur, and 2) anecdotal evidence of a shift in juror perspective, isn’t it better to follow my advice?
Don’t talk to police.