The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from being forced to incriminate themselves. In 1966, a landmark decision of the Supreme Court, Miranda v. Arizona, explained that rule further. Anyone in police custody must be informed of his or her right to confer with an attorney and to avoid self-incrimination.
Law enforcement officers never have been entirely happy with the Miranda rules. Their jobs are much easier when suspects answer questions and reveal incriminating details. If they can coax a suspect into a confession, well, that wraps up a case quickly, doesn’t it?
In the years since the Miranda rules went into effect, investigators have developed quite an arsenal of tricks to convince people to give up their right to remain silent. Cops are trained in the art of interrogation. Many are experts at gaining your trust and convincing you they are on your side. That’s simply not true. No matter how friendly a police officer seems, you have to bear in mind that his primary motivation is to collect damaging admissions from you that can send you to prison.
If North Carolina police are investigating a crime and want to talk to you about it, you should refuse to answer their questions without your lawyer present. Keep insisting that your lawyer be called—or, if you have no lawyer, that a public defender be appointed to represent you.
Watch out for these four police tricks:
- Police lie—a lot—to get you to confess. In the 1969 Supreme Court case of Frazier v. Cupp, the Court found it acceptable when a police officer falsely told a suspect that his cousin had confessed to a murder in order to get the suspect to confess, too. Police have been known to invent witnesses, to invent details of what real witnesses saw or heard, to say that accomplices have confessed or have blamed the suspect, to say that specific evidence has been recovered, and other creative details. You cannot accept police claims about the investigation process at face value. Say nothing until your lawyer arrives.
- Police promise leniency. When the investigator promises you that cooperation answering questions will get you a leniency or a reduced charge, he’s almost certainly lying. Police don’t get to decide what charge you will face; the prosecutor does. Police do not ask a judge for lenient sentencing; again, only a prosecutor could do that. The investigator is making promises he has no authority to carry out. That’s proof he’s negotiating in bad faith.
- The investigator says you can speak “off the record.” Sorry, there’s no such thing. The Miranda warning begins, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Anything you say is fair game for investigators. There’s no provision for speaking off the record, or with crossed fingers, or any other exception. Say nothing without a lawyer.
- The investigator says that silence can be taken as a sign of guilt. No, your use of a legal right not to speak cannot be held against you. You cannot be arrested for refusing to answer questions. Police can make an arrest only when probable cause exists, and your silence does not provide probable cause for an arrest. The fact that you would not speak to police will not even be mentioned in court, if you are arrested and tried.
The Lies Police Cannot Tell
There are a few limits on investigators’ ability to deceive. The Frazier v. Cupp case also set boundaries that police trickery goes too far if it would shock the conscience of the court or community. The court provided some examples, and later case law also has developed these limits on police lies:
- An investigator may not pretend to be a clergyman or a defense lawyer in order to get a confession from a subject.
- An investigator may not lie about the consequences if a suspect is found guilty of a crime, for example by saying that if a suspect confesses and says he’s sorry he would only get probation for a felony.
- An investigator may not threaten a suspect’s children (or threaten to take them away) if there is no confession.
- An investigator may not misrepresent legal principles, for example by saying a confession could not be used against him.
You Need a North Carolina Defense Attorney
If you have been brought in for questioning in a North Carolina criminal investigation, you need the services of a skilled Wilmington criminal defense attorney before any charges are filed. The New Hanover County felony defense attorneys at Speaks Law are ready to stand beside you as your legal representatives. Call us today at 910-341-7570 (locally) or 877-593-4233 (toll-free) before you talk to police investigators.