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Do You Need a Lawyer During Police Interrogations?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 25, 2024

Let's review whether you need a criminal defense attorney during a police interrogation, even if you are innocent. If you are falsely accused of committing a crime you didn't commit, then you are not alone.

Sometimes, cooperating with the police might seem harmless, especially when you think you didn't commit the crime. Many people mistakenly believe they do not need a criminal defense lawyer while answering questions from police detectives.

Do You Need a Lawyer During Police Interrogations?
You should have a lawyer present during police questioning, even if you are innocent.

Your family might even use this belief to avoid retaining an attorney. However, in cases where you are entirely factually innocent or mostly innocent, you will still need a lawyer. Your request for a lawyer or decision to remain silent cannot be used against you in court.

The criminal justice system can be intimidating for those unfamiliar with laws, procedures, and policies. Many suspects facing criminal charges make the crucial mistake of assuming that if they didn't commit the crime, they have nothing to worry about, without realizing that county jails and state prisons hold many innocent people who were wrongfully convicted

Police interrogations are a critical component of the criminal justice process. They are a primary method for gathering evidence, understanding the circumstances surrounding an alleged crime, and identifying potential suspects. 

However, the interrogation room can also be a high-pressure environment where the balance of power decidedly favors law enforcement. If the police consider you a suspect, denying involvement will not help you.

Many people understand their need to have an attorney present for police questioning if they committed the crime in question, but what if you are innocent? 

What if this is just a misunderstanding, or what if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Should you still request an attorney before answering any questions? The answer is a resounding YES. Let's discuss why.

Understanding Police Interrogation Tactics

Law enforcement officers in California (as in other states) are trained in various interrogation tactics designed to elicit confessions or incriminating statements

These may range from the "good cop, bad cop" routine to more subtle psychological manipulations, such as feigning sympathy or understanding to make the suspect feel more at ease. The police are not your friends, and they do not care about you or your family, regardless of a seemingly friendly demeanor.

The primary goal of their tactics is not necessarily to gather truthful information but rather to obtain any evidence that could incriminate you, irrespective of its integrity. Thus, despite their seeming innocuousness, these tactics can lead to false confessions or statements that could be misconstrued later in court.

Put more simply, no matter how "friendly" law enforcement may be to you in the interrogation room, they are not your friends. They are actively looking for justification to charge you with a crime, and the number one way they obtain that justification is through your answers to their questions. 

This is why it's crucial to have an attorney present as a shield, regardless of your guilt or innocence, and why you should respectfully decline to answer any questions until you have one. Here are some things to remember:

  • The less information you give the police, the less ammunition they have to use against you.
  • The best way to reveal the truth is through your lawyer.
  • It's a myth that refusing an interview without a lawyer suggests you are guilty of the crime.
  • Miranda warnings give you the right to stop questioning at any time.
  • Police are trained to build a rapport and make suspects feel comfortable because they know you are more likely to speak with them and give them information if relaxed.

How Does an Attorney Protect You During Police Interrogations?

A skilled California criminal defense attorney in the interrogation room protects you in various ways. Let's look at the four below.

Protection Against Self-Incrimination

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from self-incrimination, allowing them to refuse to answer questions that might incriminate them. 

However, understanding when this right applies can be confusing in the heat of an interrogation. A defense attorney can provide clear guidance on when it is in your best interest to speak or remain silent, ensuring you do not unintentionally incriminate yourself through your statements.

Navigating Legal Procedures and Terminology

Police Interrogations

Legal jargon and procedures can be complex and bewildering. What might seem like an innocuous question could have underlying legal implications that laypersons are typically unaware of. 

An attorney versed in criminal law can interpret these nuances and advise you accordingly, ensuring that you do not unknowingly say anything that could be detrimental to your case.

Preventing Unintentional Waiver of Rights

Many individuals are unaware of their Miranda rights during interrogation, such as the right to stop answering questions at any time or having an attorney present, even if they cannot afford one. 

Without an attorney, there's a significant risk of unintentionally waiving these rights. Legal representation ensures that your rights are articulated, understood, and preserved from the start to the end of the interrogation process.

Mitigating Psychological Pressure

Interrogations are designed to be psychologically taxing. This pressure can lead to false confessions, misstatements, or the provision of information that could be misconstrued as incriminating.

The presence of a defense attorney serves as a buffer against these pressures, ensuring that the interrogation is conducted fairly and that your mental and emotional well-being is protected.

Does Asking for an Attorney Make Me Look Guilty?

One joint tactic law enforcement may use is that they may (subtly or not) suggest that you wouldn't feel the need to ask for an attorney if you were truly innocent. This is simply not true—for two important reasons:

  1. Having an attorney is always your legal right, regardless of guilt or innocence. In other words, the justice system cannot presume your guilt because you asked for a lawyer, nor can this request be used against you in court.
  2. Assume the police already believe you are guilty. Remember, this interrogation is an active attempt to get information from you that proves what they already suspect. Thus, asking for an attorney will not make them suspect you any more or any less.

What is the Importance of Having an Attorney, Innocent or Not?

The belief that innocence alone will safeguard against the consequences of a police interrogation overlooks the reality of the legal system's complexities. Innocent individuals have found themselves entangled in legal battles simply due to misinterpreted statements or coerced confessions. 

An attorney's role is to defend the guilty and protect the rights of all individuals, innocent or guilty. If you are detained for a police investigation, always invoke your right to have an attorney present before answering any questions.

You must remember that you have the constitutional right to speak with an attorney and do not have to answer police questions. The best way to avoid falling into interrogation traps and giving police evidence to use against you is not to speak to the police without first consulting with a lawyer. Contact us for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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