A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota
Receiving a call from a police officer who says they “just want to talk” is unsettling at best, and terrifying at worst.
If you have been contacted by the police and they tell you they “just want to talk,” contact a lawyer first. Hiring a lawyer could be the difference between you walking out of the police station with your freedom, versus spending the night in jail.
If you’ve been contacted by the police in or around Gillette, Wyoming, before calling them back, call an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Christina L. Williams first.
When police contact someone, they don’t really “just want to talk.” More likely it’s because they already have some evidence and want to validate their suspicions. Maybe they think you were a witness, but it could also mean that they believe you’re a suspect.
Even if you meet with the police and proclaim your innocence, without the assistance of a lawyer there’s a good chance that you’ll accidentally say something that could make you a suspect.
To place you under arrest, police only need to have probable cause to believe that you were involved in committing a crime. Probable cause could be something as simple as conflicting answers to their questions.
Police officers are masters at getting people to admit things, and at spotting lies or inconsistencies. They will ask the same question, over and over again, in different ways, then point out small differences in your answers. Then they’ll use these inconsistencies to question the validity of your entire statement. A lawyer can prevent this from happening by making sure you understand the question you are being asked, and by making sure you don’t say more than what the police are asking about.
As a criminal defense lawyer, I’ve seen too many times when police ask someone to come in to talk to get their side of a story. The police will say it won’t take long, and that after the interview you’ll be able to go about your business. So you go to the police station, you start to talk, and then all of a sudden you find yourself placed under arrest and your friends or family are told that they can visit you in jail or see you at your arraignment.
Even if you think you’re just being called because you’re a witness, it’s still better to contact a lawyer first. A lawyer can quickly analyze the incident that the police want to discuss with you, and can even contact the police first to determine what they want to know.
Some people worry that insisting on having a lawyer present makes them look guilty. But does it really matter? If the police think they have probable cause to believe you committed a crime, they’re going to arrest you whether you have a lawyer with you or not. Having a lawyer with you when you meet with the police doesn’t make you look guilty - it makes you look smart and careful. Remember, criminal cases are built on evidence, not appearances. Having a lawyer with you is not evidence. The things you say are. Having a lawyer with you when you meet with the police may be the only thing standing between you and a night in jail.
The common advice from lawyers is that you should never, under any circumstances, talk to the police. And while there is some merit to this idea, it isn’t always true.
There are times when you should talk to the police. For example, if a police officer approaches you on the street and wants to talk to you when you know you’ve done nothing wrong, it might make sense to answer the officer’s questions, in as few words as possible so that the police officer lets you go.
If you were the victim of a crime and the police are trying to get information to investigate and prosecute someone who committed a crime, yes - talk to the police.
If you’re reaching out to the police because you have information about a crime that was committed or because you were the victim of a crime, it is much less likely that you are a suspect. If you were a witness to a crime, want to help, and you contact the police to provide information - talk to the police.
Things get murky when you might have been involved in a crime. If there is any possible way you were involved in something criminal - even slightly - do not talk to the police. Talk to a lawyer first. And if a police officer contacts you because they “want to talk” it’s best to go to the meeting with a lawyer. Alternatively, a lawyer may be able to help you prepare a written statement and avoid a situation where you inadvertently say something that leads to you being charged with a crime.
If a police officer reads you your Miranda rights, then you should definitely stop talking. If you are not under arrest and are free to go, leave. If you have been placed under arrest, be quiet, polite, and follow the police officer’s instructions.
Once you have been placed under arrest, you need to affirmatively tell the police officer that you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and that you want to speak with a lawyer.
Criminal defense lawyers are usually hired after someone has been arrested and charged with a crime. But if you’ve been contacted by the police because they “just want to talk” hiring a lawyer may be one of the best decisions you can make. A lawyer can help you by preventing you from saying something that could lead to your arrest.
If there is even the slightest chance that you were involved in something criminal, and especially if you’ve been placed under arrest, stop talking, politely tell the police that you’re invoking your right to remain silent, and that you want to talk with a lawyer.
You are under no obligation to speak with the police. You have a constitutional “right to remain silent.” And it is all too easy, in the face of questioning by a police officer, to admit to something that might make you appear to be guilty. This could be an innocent mistake, like saying one name instead of another, or the police might misunderstand what you say and make you a suspect. And unfortunately, the police aren’t likely to look at a misstatement as a simple mistake. Instead, your misstep will be heavily scrutinized and turned into a lie that makes you look guilty.
A police officer might suggest that the consequences will be less if you admit to a crime now. But police do not have the authority to negotiate the penalties for a crime - only a prosecutor can do that.
Many people go to the police station because they want to provide their side of the events. But the police station is not the place to do this. The police officer’s job is to gather evidence to help them make an arrest.
Police officers can and will say anything - including lying - to get you to admit to something. There is no law saying that they cannot lie to get you to admit to something. So they do. They want you to say as much as possible so that you open the door to other charges. And if you do confess to the police, the prosecutor has an easy job of proving a case. On the other hand, if you talk to a lawyer first, even if you did commit a crime, your lawyer can negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor that will be more advantageous for you.
If you are not the victim of a crime, the police are not there to help you.
If you were contacted by the police, get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side before you speak to the police. Christina L. Williams and her team of criminal defense professionals are here to help.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.