“You have the right to remain silent. …. You have the right to an attorney.” That’s not just something they say on television. Those are your rights under the United States and Indiana Constitutions, and you have those rights even before you are arrested, even during a police investigation.
People who are being investigated by the police do not always know about it, and many people are arrested with almost no investigation, based on what a police officer observes on the spot. Sometimes, however, you may learn that a law enforcement investigation is being conducted about something related to you. If you believe the police might be investigating you for possibly having committed a crime, or if you even think the police might consider you a suspect, you need a lawyer.
Note that there are a few times that you must or should answer a law enforcement officer’s question. For example, if you are stopped for a traffic violation, you should tell the officer your name, address, and date of birth, and you should produce your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance on request. If you don’t, you could be arrested. If the police ask if they can search you or your car, you should tell them “No, I do not consent to a search.” Do not interfere with them if they conduct a search anyway, but do not consent. In fact, it is a good idea to repeat “I do not consent to a search” several times to take away a prosecutor’s later argument that you refused consent at first but then agreed to the search. If you do not consent, and if there is a trial later, there may be a possibility that your lawyer can persuade the judge to exclude evidence that the police find. If you consent, it may be almost impossible for your lawyer to do that.
Other than those sorts of questions, if you think the police may believe you committed a crime or consider you a suspect, you need an attorney before you talk to the police. It is fair to ask the police if you are a suspect. If the answer is yes, if the answer is ambiguous, or if the officer wants to know why you asked, treat it as a big, flashing, red light telling you that you need a lawyer. Even if the answer is no, it may really mean, “no, not yet,” and if it appears that you think, or even have a nagging feeling, that you might become a suspect, you can say, “Thank you for telling me that, but I’d really like to talk to a lawyer before I talk to you.” The police may try to discourage you from hiring an attorney by saying something like, “I never saw an innocent person demand an attorney before talking to the police.” That’s just wrong. Innocent people do that all the time.
At this stage of the process, what good will that do? First, your lawyer may advise you not to talk to the police at all. Even if you do end up talking to the police, your lawyer can do several things. Your lawyer can help ensure that the police follow the rules. Your lawyer may ask the police to clarify questions before you answer, or ask you to clarify your answers, to make sure there is no misunderstanding between you and the investigators. Your lawyer may tell you not to answer some questions, or even end the interview entirely, and can take the blame for it when you refuse to talk to the investigators based on your lawyer’s advice. Depending on the situation, lawyer may be able to help dispel police suspicion, but more importantly your lawyer will be looking to avoid any missteps that waive your rights, which could result in evidence that can be used against you at trial when it should have been excluded.
Harshman Ponist’s criminal defense attorneys have a wealth of experience in dealing with criminal investigations, both as prosecutors and as defense attorneys. If you think you might be the subject of a law enforcement investigation, you may contact one of our criminal defense attorneys by calling (317) 964-6000 or by submitting an inquiry using the “Contact Us” form on this page.