If the police are questioning you in relation to a crime that took place, you may already be a suspect. At best, you are being questioned as a witness who may possibly be used to testify at trial. At worst, you are under suspicion for the crime, and a criminal defense attorney is the best means of protecting yourself against self-incrimination and falling prey to tactics by the police to evoke a statement that may be construed as an admission of guilt. The police are well trained to trick a suspect into confessing to a crime, and even if you didn’t commit the crime, you’d better have a lawyer present during any and all questioning.
Police Know How to Evoke a “Confession” From You – Even if it’s False.
Too often, false confessions are the result of hours of threats, psychological stress, mental disability, and a slew of other factors. A common method used by law enforcement to obtain “voluntary” confessions is the criticized Reid Technique. The Reid Technique, developed by John E. Reid and his colleagues in 1947, is a nine-step process used by law enforcement for interrogation. These nine steps, outlined in an educational piece entitled “The Reid Technique of Interrogation” written by Brian C. Jayne and Joseph P. Buckley (President of John E. Reid & Associates) and published in 2004, makes statements that should alarm the criminal defense community, as well as place all citizens that are facing police questioning on notice. For example, “[a]ll suspects start off denying involvement in the offense. The guilty suspect eventually becomes quiet and withdrawn. At some point the guilty suspect starts to mentally debate whether or not to confess. It is at this stage that the investigator seeks the first admission of guilt.” The Reid Technique takes an assumptive stance that all suspects “start off denying involvement” and presumably, that every suspect is a viable candidate for voluntary confession, regardless of that initial denial or the actual involvement in the crime. The document states, “[m]ost guilty suspects and all innocent ones will offer denials during theme development. An important principle with respect to denials is that the more often a suspect denies involvement in an offense, the more difficult it is for that person to tell the truth. If a suspect is permitted to voice too many denials he becomes committed to that position and no amount of persuasion will allow him to save enough face to tell the truth. For this reason, the investigator will discourage the suspect from offering weak denials.” If you are facing questioning by law enforcement in relation to any crime, remember that law enforcement utilize the Reid Technique on a regular basis.
Wrongful Convictions – American Society’s Pandemic
According to the Innocence Project, “[i]n approximately 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence, defendants made false confessions, admissions or statements to law enforcement officials.” Those defendants spend an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration. In their efforts to convict for a crime, law enforcement (and state prosecutors) sometimes hone in on the wrong person of interest due to faulty detective work or inadequate evidence. If you’re being questioned in a criminal matter, the police are likely suspicious of you; they are seeking an arrest and the state is seeking a conviction. By not having the right representation, you may be vulnerable to a system that has a history of obtaining convictions through inaccurate evidence, mis-identification by eye-witnesses, and false confessions made under duress.
Wrongful convictions and the imprisonment of innocent people is an increasing phenomenon, and as science and law continue to intersect, more exonerations are occurring with the acceptance of better post-conviction DNA testing laws, recanted and/or corrected witness statements, invalidated forensic science results and acknowledgement of bad government procedures. But at what price? Thousands of innocent people, who likely thought they’d never need a lawyer because they were not guilty of the crime have been put behind bars, or worse, placed on death row. According to the National Registry of Exonerations there were 90 exonerations of wrongful convictions in 2013 alone – and that’s certainly not the national total of individuals improperly imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Some experts estimate the number of innocents imprisoned has skyrocketed to over ten thousand people. A study spearheaded by University of Michigan law professor Samuel R. Gross was published in April 2014 by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. In this examination entitled Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death, Gross and his fellow researchers state that identifying post-conviction, material factual evidence that proves the innocence of a convicted person has simply not been a priority as “legal review of a criminal conviction in the United States focuses primarily on procedural errors at trial rather than on the factual accuracy of the trial court’s judgment.” The best way to avoid these types of factual errors before it’s too late is for every citizen involved in an investigation to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
Even an innocent person needs a lawyer during police questioning. It doesn’t make you “look guilty” by invoking your right to have an attorney present. If you are arrested or simply brought in for (seemingly innocent) questioning in a criminal matter, asking to speak with your lawyer won’t be enough to invoke your right to counsel. You must firmly state the following: “I am invoking my right to remain silent. I am invoking my right to have my attorney present.” It is then that the police should stop their line of questioning until you have retained a lawyer to be present during questioning. Don’t place yourself in a vulnerable position in a criminal investigation. With the rates of incarceration skyrocketing, it’s simply unwise to talk to police without a lawyer on your side.