Police investigations aren’t like they appear in T.V. shows such as CSI, law and order, etc. Most people probably don’t have a lot of interactions with the police or a police investigation, and may not know how to handle it when the police start investigating them or believe the person has committed a crime. There are things to remember and keep in mind when you are being investigated, to help protect yourself and your future from being derailed by a police investigation.
The first thing to remember is to be polite. Being rude, cussing at them, getting angry at police, will not help you situation. In fact, it could lead you to being charged with things such as disorderly conduct, intimidation, and other crimes. If the police are talking to you, your best option is to remain calm and be polite. It might help to defuse a situation, and will likely keep extraneous interactions.
Something else to consider is recording any interaction with the police if they are investigating you. If they pull you over, or come to your house, or stop you and talk to you on the street, start a recorder. There are many recording applications that are available to download and use for free, and most smartphones, iphones, androids, etc, have the memory capacity and ability to record large segments of time.
By not recording, you turn the interaction into a he said/she said moment in court, where the judge or a jury will have to decide who to believe if there are any discrepancies. That in and of itself is a riskier proposition, but police are also given an inherent credibility when they testify by some judges and juries in a lot of situations. By having a recording, there is not dispute or can be no dispute as to what you told police, what they said to you, and what happened. Also, by telling the police you are recording them, it provides you additional protection.
So what’s the best way to handle the situation if you are pulled over by the police? First, make sure before you drive your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance are somewhere easily accessible from the driver’s seat. Then, if you are pulled over, get those three documents out and have them ready when the officer gets to your door. This will speed up the stop and limit your interaction with the officer. Keep calm, be polite, and don’t get agitated.
Don’t get out of your car unless the police officer asks you to do so. Just remain seated in your seat and be patient. Try to stay as still as possible, and if possible don’t fidget. Police officers will sometimes see someone fidgeting or shifting around and consider that “furtive movements” or “appearing unusually nervous”, which they can try and use as a justification to extend the stop or pat the person down for weapons. Arguing or getting loud with the officer will also not help the situation, and will likely lengthen the stop or possibly lead to the officer wanting to do a search of your person or vehicle.
One thing to remember is that you almost always have a right not to consent to a search of your person, your vehicle, your residence, and your property. If you have something in those areas that is not allowable, or you might possibly have something that is not allowable, do NOT consent to the search. Police will always conduct a search if you allow it. If you think that maybe if you say “go ahead” they will assume you’re fine and not search, that’s not accurate. The police will pretty much always search if you tell them they can, so don’t consent to a search unless you are sure there is nothing to find.
If you are stopped by the police on the street, there are a few other things to consider. First, make sure and ask if you are free to leave. This helps to verify the police aren’t in the process of arresting you and lets you know that you can walk away at any time. Just like if you were pulled over in a vehicle, stay calm and don’t get angry. Remain polite and it will likely lead to a smoother encounter and a quicker and better resolution for you.
If the police want to interview you or talk to you, think it through very carefully before agreeing to do so. Especially if you don’t know what they intend to ask you about. Police will often interview suspects they intend to arrest but not tell them they aren’t leaving at the end of the interview. People have a right not to speak with the police, and you should protect that right and be very sure you want to make statements before you do so.
Do not speak with the police in an interview if you have been drinking or don’t feel well. You need to keep your wits about you and be at your best when they are interviewing. There is probably no harm in speaking with an attorney before you give such an interview. Make sure and see ask as the interview is beginning whether it is being recorded. Another thing to remember is that at the beginning the police will likely review and have you sign a waiver of rights allowing them to speak with you and not violate your right against self-incrimination.
Keep in mind that even after you sign that document, you can stop the interview at any time and ask for a lawyer. If you feel like the interview is getting away from where you want it to be or feel yourself getting agitated or upset, then ask to speak with a lawyer. Speak very clearly when you ask, and make sure they say something in acknowledge of your request for a attorney. The police will try and use anything ambiguous or potentially incriminating against you.
In addition, don’t volunteer statements. When police talk to you, let them ask the questions and then respond to their questions. There is actually an important difference taken by the courts between statements made in response to a police officer’s questions, compared to statements that are just said without any particular prompting by police. Any statements you simply volunteer without being asked a question increases the likelihood they can be admitted into court and possibly used against you.
It’s also a good idea to consult an attorney and get them involved early if the police are investigating you. Having an attorney with you if you choose to speak with police can be very helpful. They can stop you from saying something you shouldn’t, and help protect your rights and act as a counter-weight to police pressure. Waiting until you are formally arrested or charged to bring in an attorney can cause you to be in a worse position or to make mistakes that hurt your position and imperil your future.
Another thing to remember is that police officers are allowed to lie to you during investigations. They will tell you they have evidence they don’t, that people have accused you of things they haven’t, all to try and induce you into believing that they have you dead to rights and you need to confess. Especially when it comes to forensic evidence, such as fingerprints and DNA evidence. The real world is not like C.S.I. It is much less likely that any fingerprints or DNA would be found and usable.
It also is very unlikely that the police would have any such results in a quick manner. It usually takes weeks and/or months for items sent to a lab for testing to be analyzed, and for any usable results to be sent back to the police. So take what the police tell you with a grain of salt. Be skeptical of their claims, and don’t let them scare you or bully you into admitting to something you don’t mean to or that you shouldn’t admit.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is under no circumstances should you run from the police or try to fight them. Even if the police are improperly detaining you or violating your rights against self-incrimination or search and seizure, flight or violence is not the answer. The courts have consistently held that even if the underlying arrest was wrong, illegal, or improper, someone who resists during an arrest can still be charged, prosecuted, and convicted for resisting an invalid arrest.
You have remedies available outside of resistance, such as complaints to police boards and civil lawsuits. Your best option if you are being arrested is to cooperate fully, say nothing, and wait for your opportunity to pursue legal remedies. Don’t let short term anger and frustrations lead you to make bad choices and cause you additional problems.
So what happens if you are arrested? Again, the important thing is to stay calm. Getting angry, excited, or upset will not help you. Don’t say anything other than “I want a lawyer”, as no other statement will be helpful. Once the police are at the point of taking you into custody, there is pretty much nothing you can say to stop them. And anything you say will be documented by the police, and can be used against you. An arrest will probably be scary and frustrating, but you need to keep a cool head or you can wind up in worse trouble or hurting your chances of salvaging the situation.
It can be scary to have the police investigate you, and there are a lot of ways you can put yourself in a worse position. But stay calm and follow the advice we’ve told you, and you should be able to reduce your harm and put yourself in the best position to deal with this situation.