I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.
Cambridge Criminal Lawyer Explains the Risks
Why are they Questioning You?
Any encounter with the police can be disconcerting. Police officers can exude power, confidence and impatience. We can feel powerless in the presence of such authority. None of us, after all, want to be arrested or charged with a crime. When they question us, we can feel a nearly irresistible urge to cooperate or at least to appear to cooperate. We fear that by refusing to answer their questions we only confirm our guilt in their minds and, consequently, seal our fate. Our need to explain, justify or deny accusations can overwhelm our better judgment. Consider contacting a licensed Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer before answering any questions.
When seeking to question an individual suspected of a crime, they do so to: 1) test the credibility of the accusation by obtaining the other side of the story; 2) assess the character of the accused or his willingness to make amends to determine whether, in a relatively small matter, the situation can be managed short of an arrest or criminal charge; or, 3) to take a stab at letting the suspect hang himself. Although 1 and 2 favor talking to police, it can be difficult for an individual to discern the objectives of the police who seek to question him. Often times, particularly when investigating domestic assault accusations, the police intend to make an arrest prior to questioning the accused.
Those suspected of crimes often respond to police questioning with partial denials. A person might, for example, admit that: 1) he was present during the incident; 2) the alleged victim did something to provoke him; and, 3) there was a non-physical confrontation between him and the alleged victim; he, however, denies striking the alleged victim. Such a “denial” is more inculpatory than exculpatory, for he concedes not only that he was present, but also that he had a motive for striking the alleged victim. None of these admissions are exactly helpful to his defense. Further, a defendant’s self-serving denials or explanations to the police are not usually admissible at trial – unless, of course, the defendant takes the stand.
The Risks of the Unrecorded Statement
Many individuals fear allowing the police to record their statements. Obviously, a recorded confession is powerful evidence of guilt. Unrecorded statements are, in some ways, fraught with greater risks. Just because a statement is not recorded does not mean it is significantly easier to contest what was said; it does not necessarily devolve into a routine “he said, she said,” a balanced contest of competing versions of what was said during the interrogation. While an unrecorded statement affords a suspect, or more accurately a defendant, the opportunity to challenge the officer or detective on what he said when questioned, few criminal defense lawyers possess the necessary cross-examination skills to discredit a police detective called by the prosecution to recount his client’s confession. Even fewer criminal defendants are up to the task of taking the stand to offer a believable denial to a jury or to survive an experienced prosecutor’s searing cross-examination.
Nearly every day on the television set the hero cop breaks into the bad guy’s house and beats a confession out of him and we cheer on the cop. Propaganda smears our clear vision. It causes us to accept the diminishment of our constitutional protections as something to be lauded—after all, the cop was protecting us.
Worse, an unrecorded interrogation allows a detective immense latitude in “interpreting” what a suspect said and memorializing and recalling those statements. In other words, without an audio recording, a detective is free to recall only those portions of the statement that suggest or confirm the defendant’s guilt and to misrepresent what the defendant said. Moreover, a detective, knowing he isn’t being recorded, may mistreat a suspect, employing coercive, as well as underhanded and unconstitutional stratagems, including threats, deceptions, and misrepresentations, to secure his confession. At a hearing on a motion to suppress the confession or at trial, the detective shrugs his shoulders, blandly denies any wrongdoing and testifies that the defendant appeared eager to unburden himself.
Risks of Matching Wits with Detectives Trained in Interrogation
Detectives, particularly those of the State Police and large municipalities, receive extensive training in interrogation methodologies, including 40 hours of classroom schooling in techniques that have proven effective in painstakingly breaking down a suspect’s resistance, the psychology of denial, and circumventing the constitutional protections afforded citizens. These techniques are more than general guidelines – they are comprehensive and detailed, and specifically designed to undermine the intransigence of a variety of personality types. Those teaching these interrogation techniques have considered nearly every factor that might enhance or frustrate a detective’s attempt to elicit a confession, from the way the detective dresses, his manner, his tone of voice, and even the room within which interrogations are to be conducted. They anticipate a suspect’s every evasion, as well as any kind of defiance, and provide a tailored, psychologically based, stratagem for every obstacle. Disciplined, prepared and patient, today’s detectives carefully manipulate a guarded, wary suspect into revealing that which may have seemed unimaginable to him prior to questioning – his admission of complicity in the crime. For those who have spent their careers probing the human mind for susceptibility, obtaining a confession, or at least a statement, has become more science than art.
The interrogation often becomes an exercise in trying to confirm the suspicion that the suspect is guilty, rather than trying to figure out the truth.
If it is a serious crime, such as murder, detectives want to get the suspect talking and to keep him talking. As long as he is talking, even if he is denying he committed the crime, the police are listening for internal inconsistencies and inconsistencies with facts they believe, or know, to be true. If the suspect refuses to admit any knowledge of the crime, trained detectives will calmly offer the suspect some empathy, extenuating circumstances or justifications for the crime. For example, a detective might ask, “Joe, I know this guy was having an affair with your wife. I can understand why you might have reacted the way you did. You’re not a criminal. We all know that. You have a clean record, you work hard, you pay your bills. If you did it, you had plenty of reasons. Anyone would have reacted that way. You’re only human.” Seemingly offered a way out, and eager to unburden himself to the “sympathetic” detective, many a suspect takes the bait. Even if detectives have solid proof of a suspect’s guilt, extracting his confession greases the pole to a tidy conviction. Few criminal defense lawyers are skilled enough to persuade a jury to question the authenticity of a client’s confession.
If you value your liberty, it is often wise to resist the temptation to submit to police questioning. If the police the police are seeking to question you or a loved one, contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge Criminal Lawyer who has been defending those accused of crimes for over 20 years. He is the author of Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination. Contact us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation with Attorney Mahoney.