The Danger of Uncounseled Statements to Police
A confession can be the end all and be all of a criminal case. It is extraordinarily difficult to explain to a jury that, sometimes, innocent people provide false confessions when coerced by police. In other cases, a statement by the defendant can be taken out of context and treated as a confession even because the defendant did not realize how his or her words would be used.
Police will often invite suspects to speak with them, knowing that people tend to think that the officer will hear their side of the story and decide the case is debatable, or should not go forward. This is not a casual conversation, and if the police asked to talk to you, it is usually because they are getting ready to charge you with a crime.
Your Right Not to Speak to the Police Without an Attorney
The constitution provides that you have a right to an attorney when you are being questioned, and the supreme court has required that before the police can speak to a suspect who is in custody, they must advise that person of their rights. Specifically, when being questioned in the custody (or, effective custody) of the police, you have the following rights:
- You have the right to remain silent
- If you chose to speak, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law or other proceeding
- you have the right to consult with a lawyer before answering any questions and you may have him or her present with you during questioning
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, and you want one, a lawyer will be provided for you by the Commonwealth without cost to you
- If you chose to speak, you may stop at any time and consult with a lawyer
If the police obtain a statement by someone in their custody before they are advised of their right to an attorney, and the fact that their statement will be used against them, that statement becomes inadmissible in court.
The Supreme Court has decided that, in order to invoke your Miranda Rights, you must state clearly: "I want a lawyer." Saying "I think I might need a lawyer," or "do you think I need a lawyer" is not enough, and the police may simply disregard your statement and continue questioning.