Oct 26 2009

Respect the law, but don’t talk to them

Published by at 6:14 am under Government,Security Advisories

I knew about the Miranda act and the Fifth Amendment, but I’d never really realized how little protection they offer if you decide to talk.  The words “Anything you say can and will be used against you” really mean exactly what they say.  I’m not much of a trouble maker, despite what some of my previous employers might say, but after watching a pair of videos from the University of Alberta (watch them below or on the Law is Cool site), the only words I’m going to say to a police officer from now on are going to be “I want to talk to my lawyer”. 

The point that the professor makes again and again is that there is nothing you can say to a police officer that is going to help you.  You are infinitely more likely to say something that can be used against you, even if your innocent, than anything you say helping you.  The part that surprised me, is that even if you say something that could help you to the police, your attorney can’t use it in your defense.  That may just be the law in Canada, but I’m not willing to take the chance.

Even if you’re completely innocent and were just a witness to a crime, do yourself a favor and have a lawyer present.  It’ll cost you some money, it’ll cost the police some time, but it might make the difference between potential problems and walking out of the police station at the end of the interview.  People get excited and make mistakes, and things sometimes come out the wrong way.  Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.  The officer in the video states several times that the police are allowed to lie in interviews; in a worse case scenario, what you thought was just making a statement could turn into a full on interrogation if you misspeak, even if it’s an honest mistake. 

This should make the holiday season interesting; my BiL is a Southern California police officer and I don’t think he’d see the humor in me bringing a lawyer to the family get togethers.

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Respect the law, but don’t talk to them”

  1. daveon 27 Oct 2009 at 12:09 am

    While these are from the Canada, the professor is talking about AMERICAN law. Read the paragraph before the video on the page you mention. It looks like the bit that surprised you really does apply to you

  2. Peteron 27 Oct 2009 at 5:33 am

    The idea that “there is nothing you can say to a police officer that is going to help you” implies that everything you say is going to hurt you. In most cases the police are busy enough that they aren’t going to bother bringing you down to the station for random questioning unless they already have a suspicion about you.

    Being asked to come down to the station for questioning about a serious crime your brother who owes you a lot of money was involved in, is quite different from being questioned on the street by a police officer about a car accident you happened to witness, just by virtue of standing there.

    Police officers are just trying to do their job, and demanding to have your lawyer present in ALL situations is just going to make them make things harder on you. Since, as you say, they can lie during questioning, giving the impression you have something to hide is going to make them want to work harder to try to find it.

    Not every police interaction has to be made to be confrontational. Sometimes the police do have it out for you and you are a suspect, but many times you aren’t. These videos seem to be more targeted to people who are part of a specific investigation. If the police came to your door and asked if you had seen anything related to a rash of neighborhood break-ins, are you really going to say “I want to speak to my lawyer first” when if you haven’t seen anything you could just as easily say “No, I haven’t seen anything” and be done with it. Now, if you knew who was doing it because you were letting the thief know when your neighbors left for the day so they wouldn’t get caught, then yes, you probably should keep your mouth shut.

    IANAL, but I believe your Miranda rights only come into effect if you are arrested or taken into custody. If the police are only questioning you without detaining you and you answer of your own free will, those rights are not applicable.

  3. Martinon 27 Oct 2009 at 5:56 am


    I realize they’re talking about American law, I think they even say that a lot, but not all, pertains pretty well to Canadian law as well. I was almost certain that there is not “Miranda rights” in Canada. :-)

  4. Martinon 27 Oct 2009 at 6:05 am


    It’s not implied, it’s stated more than once that almost anything you say to the police, even in the most innocent of situations, does have the potential to hurt you. The speaker states this explicitly more than once and says that the best you can hope for in most situations is to not accidentally say the wrong thing and cast suspicion upon yourself where none is deserved.

    I agree that saying “I want to talk to my lawyer” in every situation is not going to be the appropriate response, but if there’s an investigation and you’re involved in any way, I’d say it’s a valid position to take. Professor Yaha points out two very specific instances where innocent men were sentenced to over a decade of jail time each because they spoke to the police without the benefit of legal council. That’s not a chance I’m willing to take; I’m willing to live with the police being annoyed because I asked to speak to a lawyer before making any statements. I might be willing to talk freely as the witness to a traffic accident, but for anything more serious, I’m going to wait until I have a lawyer present.


  5. Jimon 27 Oct 2009 at 11:03 am

    While they may have been posted by a professor in Canada, the videos were clearly recorded at a law school in Virginia. Even the police officer who said multiple times that he didn’t want to put innocent people in jail made it clear you are better off keeping your mouth shut.

  6. Nikion 05 Nov 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Although there may be some Canadian connection (perhaps University of Alberta helped get the talk posted online?) the professor refers to being located in Virginia. Additionally, and most importantly, when the presenter explained that your own words were hearsay and thus inadmissible in court, he cited Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A), which a quick Google search confirms is American law. (See http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rules.htm).

    The hardest part about not talking to cops is that it’s a pretty natural instinct to think that shutting up somehow implies guilt (and plenty of policemen will try to use this natural inclination to convince you to talk). I think this professor’s points that a) talking will *never* help you and b) there is a much greater chance of talking harming you in court are really eye-opening and useful bits of advice.

  7. JimMon 05 Nov 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Police are allowed to lie in pursuit of criminals. Police do not have to identify themselves as police. Therefore, anyone might be a police officer. Therefore, you should never talk to anyone without a lawyer – specifically, YOUR lawyer – present.

    Obviously, that’s the extreme point in a spectrum, towards the other end of which is sitting at a police station being interrogated by a police officer as a suspect for a crime. Somewhere along that line are several states, including { uninvolved, witness, suspect, “guilty” }.

    The problem I see is that the boundaries are fuzzy, and while the police know where those boundaries are, they don’t have to tell you. Furthermore, the police are the ones who define the boundaries, and which state you’re in. If they decide you’re a suspect, you are by definition a suspect. If they decide you’re the most likely suspect, they can comb through all information they have to look for anything which can be parsed either as a lie or as a suggestion of non-innocence. It doesn’t even have to be guilt – just a removal of indications that you weren’t involved.

    I will admit that I have, in the past, approached police officers and volunteered as a witness (traffic accident – I was not involved). It “felt” like the right thing to do, and I have to admit that I would do it again. (Looking back, I think I avoided answering, by learned reflex, the question of “how fast were you going”. It was material to the accident investigation, but it might have incriminated me in an uninvolved crime.)

    Perhaps if we adopt a posture of rational skepticism – similar to treating every day as though your employer has commissioned a pen test – that attitude might work. Of course, it would also make your interactions with everyone around you less pleasant.

    A risk assessment degrades into Pascal’s wager – cost of failure is too high. However, as social animals, the cost of avoiding failure (by trusting no one) is also high, just as some see the cost of Pascal’s wager as foregoing all pleasure.

    In short, I think we need to be aware that police actively practice Social Engineering, and remember that their acting in the public interest does not mean they are acting in your interest. Requesting a lawyer will not necessarily make things harder on you – the whole point of the video is that NOT having a lawyer has a MUCH higher risk –
    but it will make things harder on the police.

  8. Website protectionon 06 Nov 2009 at 5:28 am

    It doesn’t matter about which country law he is talking about.They are mostly the same for the part where they will use everything against u and nothing to help u
    Thanks to god am no trouble maker and don’t need to talk with them much but even than am not planing to say anything without my lawyer after i saw this

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