I frequently get called by people who are stressed and panicked because a law enforcement officer has made contact with them, and they do not know how to handle it. This is especially true for those who have never been charged with a crime before, even if they themselves are not the subject of any investigation.
While it is impossible to generalize and provide advice suitable for all situations, a few facts should be known. First, you are never required to speak with law enforcement or court personnel like prosecutors unless you have been court ordered or subpoenaed to do so. Sometimes, detectives will mail out official looking sheets of paper titled something like “request to appear” which provide a specific date and time for your interview. While official-looking, the receipt of such a document does not require your appearance and submission to any interview.
Even if you believe you have done nothing wrong, it still may not make sense to submit to an interview or even conduct an informal conversation with law enforcement. A law enforcement officer does not need to and probably wont tell you everything he or she has discovered in the course of their investigation, so to a degree you go into any such interview or even conversation blind. Not having all the pertinent information, and being nervous or even under stress, you may be susceptible to manipulation which ultimately gives the impression that you said something which you legitimately did not intend to say.
Another point worth emphasizing is that there is nothing you can’t say with an attorney that you could have said without one. Take the time to speak with an attorney, and possibly retain an attorney, prior to making any decision to speak with law enforcement. If you speak with law enforcement prior to seeking legal counsel, mistakes be made that are difficult to later undo.
An officer may tell you that he just wants to hear your side of the story, and that while he has no plans to arrest you if you talk, he absolutely will arrest you if you don’t. If the officer has enough information to make an arrest, he will likely make that arrest whether or not you speak with him.
An officer also may tell you that he can make your whole legal situation go away if you give information on other defendants. Once your case has been filed with the court it is the prosecutor, not the officer’s, decision as to whether or not to drop the charges. Should you have any helpful information to provide, it is better to consult with and retain an attorney to possibly negotiate a proffer with the prosecution on your behalf.
I understand the impulse of wanting to tell your story when false allegations are being leveled against you, or when the story being told is not entirely accurate. The bottom line is that it is better to consult with and retain a criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process of determining under what circumstances it makes sense to speak with an officer.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.