Know your rights and when to claim them
We’ll start out with a basic bit of criminal procedure.
I think it is safe to say everyone has watched the television show, Cops, and seen the police arrest someone and read them their Miranda rights. Often, the arrestee (the person in handcuffs) shouts “I know my rights!” just before they start answering an officer’s questions without requesting an attorney.
So let’s talk about rights.
Miranda refers to a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, wherein a thoroughly unpleasant individual was taken into custody without being informed of his right to keep his mouth shut, or his right to an attorney, and questioned for two hours. He admitted to the theft for which he was arrested ($8.00), as well as kidnapping and raping an 18-year old woman 11 days earlier. This confession got him a ticket to jail for a long time. He appealed, claiming the police failed to guarantee his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney, and the Supreme Court agreed. (He was eventually re-convicted without the confession.)
As a result, the police now have to recite the Miranda rights—the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney—to anyone taken into custody before they are interrogated.
You are taken into custody when you reasonably believe you are no longer free to leave. If you are in handcuffs or the back seat of a cop car, you are in custody. It isn’t so clear when you have simply been pulled over.
You are being interrogated when a police officer is asking you questions and you are in custody.
Anything you say before the Miranda warning can still be used against you under some circumstances, like if you said something incriminating spontaneously. Watch your mouth.
You have the right to remain silent; anything you say will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you.
If they think you did something wrong, the police will do anything to get you talking. They will say things like “this is your chance to clear yourself.” They are wrong. You can never be punished for invoking your right to keep your mouth shut, so claim the right. Don’t try to talk your way out of the situation.
The one exception to this rule is simple. The only thing you should say is “I want to speak with an attorney.” And that’s it, the cops will back off. They have to back off once you have requested an attorney. Definitely call an attorney at this point. Apply for a public defender or pay for your own attorney. The alternative may be prison.
Is there any time you might not want to invoke your rights? Yes. Only if you truly did nothing wrong, and you have a simple and believable explanation. But if you were caught on the scene with blood on your hands, so to speak, you should probably talk to a lawyer before answering any questions.