Attorney Angela Singleton - Oklahoma City Criminal Defense

What Can You Do to Prevent Self Incrimination?

The police are free to speak with you at any time. An officer may stop you on the street as you’re walking to pick up your lunch and start asking you questions out of the blue. He or she might seem friendly and polite and promise to have you on your way in just a few moments.

Let’s say, for example, that an officer approaches you and says that a minor crime has just occurred in the area and he’s trying to gather some information. 

“Were you within the surrounding three blocks of where we are now within the last ten minutes or so?”, he asks.

“Well yes, I was buying my lunch,” you answer.

“I see from the logo on the bag you have there that you were at the fried chicken place around the corner. We’ve had several reports of someone in that area threatening passers-by. Do you mind if I take a look in your bag there, and perhaps pat you down to make sure you aren’t carrying any weapons?”

You Can Incriminate Yourself By Giving Innocent Answers

Just from providing the few answers in the scenario above, and especially if you consent to the search request, you could very quickly find yourself in handcuffs, on your way to the police station, under arrest for assault, robbery, or both. You might even be accused of committing a crime with a weapon, which would make things even worse.

If a police officer happens to stop you and ask you if you have the time and starts asking you questions about what you know, or what you’ve seen, or where you’ve been, you should immediately consider that he may suspect you of some sort of crime and is searching for probable cause to arrest you.

What Can You Do To Prevent Self Incrimination?

Whether you have or haven’t done anything wrong, one of the most important things you need to remember is that although the police can approach you and ask you questions about anything at any time, you are never under any obligation to answer them—not even if you are under arrest and in police custody.

If a law enforcement officer asks to speak with you, and even if you’ve done nothing wrong, simply saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment can lead to your arrest. Police are trained to look for suspects. The object of their work is to find those who may be guilty and arrest them. 

Someone else will decide who is actually guilty or innocent. The police are the front line and as far as they are concerned, it is better to arrest someone who is innocent that will eventually be released than to let someone who is possibly guilty go free. “Probably cause” can be made in many different ways, and anything you say can give them enough probable cause to arrest you.

How To Conduct Yourself When Speaking With The Police

The first rule to remember when you are speaking with a police officer is to remain calm and polite. Some officers will speak to you politely and make this easy. Others will be rude and aggressive and make it quite difficult to keep your cool. Whatever happens, you’re going to make the situation worse if you become angry or aggressive.

The police are trained to find reasons to stop and detain someone. One of the main things they look for is someone that seems nervous, angry, or aggressive for no apparent reason. If an officer already suspects you of something, he may poke and prod and make comments in an attempt to rattle you and escalate the situation so he has more reason to detain you.

Questions To Ask When You Are Stopped By Police

If a law enforcement officer asks you any questions that make you feel uncomfortable or that you are under suspicion for something, the first thing you should ask them is, “Am I being detained or am I under arrest?” The answer to that question should be, “No.”

If the officer confirms that you are not being detained, the next question you should ask should be, “Am I free to leave?” The answer to this question should be, “Yes.” If the officer avoids the question or doesn’t give you a clear answer, ask again.

At that point, assuming the officer answered yes, you can tell the officer (firmly but politely) that you simply don’t wish to answer any more questions that you are going to be on your way. You might say something like, “I do not wish to speak with you and I’d like to leave now.”

Never run from a police officer. You may have to politely argue with a persistent officer for a few moments in order to end the confrontation, but you should never just turn and walk away and especially never run. Doing so could be considered probable cause and give the officer the official reason he needs to detain or arrest you.

Remember, no matter what happens, even if the officer says you are being detained or arrested, you don’t have to answer any questions. Simply say that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent and say nothing more. If pushed to talk, repeat the same answer. This is one of the famous “Miranda rights” that you’ve probably heard recited a thousand times on television cop shows.

Know Your Rights To Prevent Self Incrimination

One thing you should never agree to is a search. Police won’t always call it a search, but they will often ask if they can search you or your property in some way during an encounter.

  • “Mind if I have a look in the trunk?”
  • “Would you empty your pockets for me?”
  • “Can I take a look in your backpack there?”
  • “Would you open up your purse for me?”
  • “Can I pat you down just to make sure you don’t have anything that might hurt me?”

All of these questions have the same basic meaning. The police officer is asking for your consent to conduct a search. However the question is posed, you should never give your consent for a search.

For a law enforcement officer to conduct a legal search, he or she must either have sufficient probable cause, a warrant, or your consent. If he’s asking for your consent, it’s because he doesn’t have sufficient probable cause and certainly not a warrant. Furthermore, your refusal to submit to a search can not be used as probable cause to conduct one. If asked, simply say something like, “No, I do not consent to any searches.”

Look at it this way: If an officer has probable cause to search you, he’s going to do it. He’s not going to ask you first. You’ll almost surely already have been told that you are being arrested and probably handcuffed. So, if he asks, you have every right to say no—and that can not be used against you.

Avoiding Self Incrimination If You Are Arrested

If you find yourself in a situation where you are arrested, there are two critical things to remember.

  1. You do not have to answer any questions the police ask you.
  2. The police can legally lie to you to try to get you to incriminate yourself.

If you have been arrested on suspicion of any crime, you should never speak with the police until you’ve had the chance to speak with a criminal defense attorney. This goes from the moment an officer tells you that you are being arrested until you are sitting in a cell and waiting for a lawyer. As mentioned above, simply say that you are exercising your right to remain silent and leave it at that.

Do not listen to anything the police tell you in order to try to get you to answer questions. They may tell you that you’ll get a lighter sentence or even be released if you answer some questions. They may tell you that they already know what happened so you might as well just fess up. They can come up with any number of things to try to convince you that you will be doing yourself a favor if you answer their questions. Never answer anything without speaking to a criminal defense lawyer first. Again, those Miranda rights guarantee you the right to a defense lawyer if you are being interrogated by a law enforcement officer.

Speak With An Oklahoma City Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing any type of criminal charges in Oklahoma City or the surrounding areas, I can help. My name is Angela Singleton. I am a former prosecuting attorney and as such, I know the ins and outs of Oklahoma law and the processes of a criminal courtroom. I know how evidence will be gathered and the tactics that will be used against you.

Let me put my experience to work for you. Speaking to a qualified and experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible is absolutely crucial. The more time your lawyer has to investigate and work on your case, the better we can prepare your defense and increase chances for the best possible outcome.

You can contact me online anytime or call (855) 562-9854 to schedule an appointment. Your initial consultation is free and confidential. I’ll be happy to go over the details of your case and discuss exactly what I can do to help you.

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About the Author

I started practicing criminal defense with the goal of providing people with an attorney who has both the ability and time to focus on their clients. Having legal issues can be frustrating and everyone deserves to have an attorney who will fight for them. I am that attorney because I believe everyone deserves to have an attorney who focuses on the needs of their client and who will fight for them in the courtroom.