No, the police don't want to just "hear your side of the story."
We've all watched police shows on TV. We all know this familiar warning, right?
Yet, I cannot tell you the amount of times clients I've had completely forget about their rights or think they should "tell their side of the story" since they "didn't do anything wrong." Let me just say this: if the police want you to tell your side of the story, please refrain from doing so until after you speak with an attorney. Ask them if you are free to leave and if you are, leave. If you're not free to leave, you're in police custody and you need to invoke your right to remain silent and your desire to speak with an attorney before going any further. Law enforcement knows that as soon as you say the word "lawyer," it's time to stop questioning you because if they continue, the defense attorney will get the statement thrown out for infringement of your Constitutional rights.
Casual Conversation Can Turn Into Criminal Charges
The police have a job to do just like everyone else - they are looking for a suspect and will talk to whoever is willing to talk to them about an incident. They're in the business of solving cases. You have to remember that. Just because you view yourself as innocent or you don't think anything you say could be viewed as self-incriminating does not mean that it could not become self-incriminating in the future. Whatever you say to police can and will be used against you in court - even if it is a seemingly non-incriminating statement like saying what time you woke up and where. With this simple statement, you just committed yourself to a story and if your story changes later either because you misremembered or were confused, you will be impeached and police will say your story has changed, so we cannot believe anything you say. Don't underestimate the stress of being interrogated/interviewed by the police. Law enforcement officers are trained in psychologically sophisticated techniques to get you to say what they want to hear. It is highly likely that under these circumstances, you will get facts wrong, forget information, become confused, or say things in hopes that the questioning will end, and you will be stuck with whatever you say.
But, I Don't Have Anything to Hide!
Many people think that it looks "shady" if they invoke their right to remain silent. Even if you have done nothing wrong, you gain nothing from giving a voluntary statement to police without speaking to an attorney first. You unnecessarily subject yourself to being charged with a crime that you may never have been charged with if you had invoked your right to remain silent. I guarantee you will look more guilty sitting in the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit than you will if you request to speak with a lawyer. If law enforcement wants to speak with you, chances are, they already suspect you may be guilty.
More often than not, if a police officer wants to speak with you, they will appear casual and disarming, telling you that you "seem like a stand up guy" and that they "just want to hear both sides of the story so they can close out the case." They might tell you that if you don't have anything to hide, you don't really need a lawyer. It is understandable that you might feel a compulsion to "clear things up" but please resist this temptation. You will have time to "clear things up" later once you speak with an attorney.
You Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty by the Government
Remember that the burden is on the government (police and prosecutors) to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden is never on the accused to prove that they are innocent. It is a whole lot easier to prove guilt when an accused person says too much and accidentally incriminates his or herself by voluntarily speaking to police. Once an incriminating statement has been made, understand that a criminal defense attorney is now limited in how much they can help you.
In short, you should never speak with law enforcement for any reason without an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. If you are contacted by law enforcement, contact us immediately.