I can't count how many times my mother knelt to get eye level with the much younger me and said "If you lie your punishment will be much worse than if you tell the truth." We as children hopefully had parents who instilled in us the value to always tell the truth and that the "truth shall set you free." For most parents, this is one of the most important lessons we teach our children and rightly so. However, when does keeping your mouth shut cross the line to not telling the truth? Is being silent the same as lying? The Constitution says "no", however it seems our moral values say otherwise. This quick blog post will discuss one of my favorite topics: The Fifth Amendment and how our values growing up can be used against us in a court of law. This Amendment also happens to be my favorite comedian's, Dave Chappelle, favorite Amendment; I Plead the "FIF"
The Fifth Amendment states, in a nutshell among other things, that you have the right to remain silent. This means you do not have to answer any questions or give any statements and any defense attorney worth his salt will always recommend that a client never talk to police or give a statement, verbal or written, without the attorney present. However, this is in theory and far from reality. Many people charged with crimes come to their lawyers with one of two problems- they have talked to the authorities and lied about what happened or what they know or don't know; or they talked to the police before calling Thrower & Schwartz, and gave a complete statement admitting involvement or guilt. In the majority of cases, neither is good. It is always tough to think a client would have faired much better if he wouldn't have listened to the values instilled in him at a young age- to always tell the truth. We want to know what happened, we want to know the truth about what happened, and most parents drill this into their children from a very young age.
However, at what age does somebody need to be told that you shouldn't lie to your parents about the homework you did not complete or that you did not eat your broccoli and hid it in the napkin but you need to keep silent about something illegal you may have been involved in? We tell adults constantly to never, ever talk to the police. I've even written a blog post about what to do if the police try to talk to you here. It's a dead horse that's been beaten to death on the internet, on YouTube, and every time I meet with a client who has given a statement before talking with us. The reasons you shouldn't talk to the police when they ask you to come in for an interview or stop you on the street are numerous. More times than not the police are NOT trying to clear your name as a suspect. More times than not, if the police are contacting you it's because they already have information about you or your possible involvement. Please understand, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO TALK YOUR WAY OUT OF IT! The police are looking for more evidence to charge you and looking for you to trip up in your statement to drive the nail in your own coffin, so to speak. Or, they don't have quite enough evidence to charge you and they are looking for something they can use as probable cause; in which case you are signing your own arrest warrant.
Police detectives are good at what they do. They interview and deal with people everyday. They are masters of interrogation. Some detectives have devoted their entire working career into breaking people down and getting statements. Police interrogation was even romanticized in one of my favorite TV shows of all time: The Wire. One scene in particular shows Detective Bunk interviewing a young suspect who is clearly uneducated and very young. His techniques can be watched here . Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that detectives use these exact techniques but it does highlight the process and how Bunk had nothing concrete on the young suspect yet uses his experience to get a statement.
You must remember, detectives are trained to extract statements and information, you are not trained to avoid giving statements. Talking to a detective about a crime you may or may not be guilty of is like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson and expecting to knock him out- good luck.
So, back on track. What I really wanted to talk about was the values my mother and father instilled in myself and why some suspects or defendants become helpless because of those values. We grow up to trust the police, that they are there to help and that we should always tell the truth to one another, police included. When telling our children to always tell the truth no matter what, we are implying that they should always speak when spoken to and to always tell the truth. What we don't do is add a caveat into that value of "except when the police contact you."
Obviously, there are times when our children may get hurt by speaking and telling the truth. In an extreme example, imagine a child, Ryan, has just killed a man while defending himself. The police are interrogating young Ryan, having themselves convinced Ryan actually committed murder. Once Ryan starts speaking with detectives, answering their questions, unaware what the legal requirements of self-defense are, he most likely will talk himself right into an arrest and unfortunately a conviction for murder. Even worse, he may understand the situation he is in and make up white lies about what happened to make it more favorable for him, changing key facts or evidence proved a lie by science or witnesses which contradict his own statement to police.
Although there are times when telling the truth is the best thing to do, maybe its time to start teaching our children not to not tell the truth, but to just not say anything at all?