Virtually all American adults know the line in the Miranda warning that insists upon some version of “Anything you say can be used against you.” What people often don’t realize is that this is true even if you’re not under arrest or being interrogated by law enforcement at the police station and haven’t been “Mirandized.”
As a result, it’s typically not a good idea to talk to police beyond giving them your name and other identifying information that they may request (for example, at a traffic stop) without legal representation. Too often, people think they can outsmart police or talk their way out of an arrest. However, the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something that could land you in hot water.
Lying to police can get you arrested
You can potentially be charged with a crime for lying to police. People often think the law requires them to tell the truth only if they’re under oath (for example, during a deposition or on the witness stand). In fact, if a lie hampers an investigation, you could face obstruction of justice charges. That’s why even if police want to talk with you about a friend or colleague’s activities, it’s not a good idea to do so without legal guidance.
Law enforcement officers – particularly those who investigate white collar crimes – often get people to talk by being informal. While it may seem like a friendly chat, such interactions are still questioning by law enforcement, even if they occur in the comfort of your home or office.
When and how to invoke your right to counsel
How you invoke your right to have an attorney present is important. If you’re stopped by police, for example, don’t just clam up. Assert your right to counsel respectfully but clearly after providing any requested ID.
You have to be smart about it and consider the circumstances. If police are going door to door asking if anyone saw an assault or robbery that just occurred in the neighborhood, time is likely critical, so telling them what you saw or heard, if anything, can be helpful and not hurt you if you had no involvement. But if you’re in doubt, or if you’re already facing criminal charges, your best course of action is to get sound legal guidance right away.