A message from David Betras to anyone who is being questioned by the police: Shut Up!
On a number of occasions, I’ve addressed what people should do if they are stopped and questioned by the police. Here’s an excerpt from an August 2021 blog post on the topic:
“First, if you are stopped by law enforcement and questioned you are under no obligation to do anything other than provide your name and ID.
Second, remember, the police will delay placing you in custody so they can use what you say to establish probable cause for arrest.
Third, your pre-arrest statements are admissible in court.
Fourth: Shut up. What you do not say cannot be used against you.”
That’s right I said just shut up.
I raise the topic today because as New York Times columnist Faraj Manjoo points out in his most recent piece, prosecutors in New Mexico plan to charge actor Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchinson. Hutchinson was working on the set of the movie rust when Baldwin pulled the trigger of a gun that was not supposed to be loaded with live ammunition. She was struck by a bullet and died shortly thereafter.
After the shooting Baldwin agreed to be interviewed by police without his attorney present, waived his Miranda rights, and did anything but shut up: “Still, for about an hour, Baldwin not only answered detectives’ many questions about the shooting but also offered his own theories about the incident and suggested the next steps the police might pursue in their investigation.”
As Manjoo notes, “The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows Americans to refuse to answer questions from law enforcement. Yet despite the ritualistic incantation of the Miranda warning on every TV police procedural, silence is a right that people can find hard to accept. If you’re convinced of your innocence, aren’t you obligated to help the police solve the matter under investigation? Refusing to talk to the police seems like something people do only when they’ve got something to hide.”
I’ve lost count of how many clients I’ve defended in court because they decided to abandon their Fifth Amendment rights and “help” the police who in turned helped themselves to an arrest.
In the column Manjoo praises the work of law professor and former defense attorney James Duane, one of the nation’s leading proponents of just shutting up when questioned by law enforcement. The video of his lecture “Don’t Talk to the Police,” has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, you should make it millions plus one by watching: https://youtu.be/d-7o9xYp7eE
In his lecture Duane offers this quote from former US Attorney General Robert Jackson: “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to the police under any circumstances.” It’s good to know that AG Jackson, one of the most respected lawyers in the history of American jurisprudence would think I am worth my salt.
“The average American — even if they’re a highly sophisticated college graduate or a law school student — really doesn’t know an awful lot about the many different ways in which even innocent people can regret for the rest of their lives the biggest mistake of their lives, the decision to waive their Fifth Amendment right and agree to talk to the police,” Duane said.
Duane argues that a key danger is that in trying to defend yourself to the police, you may unwittingly admit some wrongdoing. Navigating around such dangers is made all the more difficult because courts have given the police wide leeway to lie to people being interrogated.
“They will lie to you about what crime they are actually investigating,” Duane writes in his book, “whether they regard you as a suspect, whether they plan to prosecute you, what evidence they have against you, whether your answers may help you, whether your statements are off the record, and whether the other witnesses have agreed to talk to them — even about what those witnesses have or have not said.”
Manjoo closes his column with this passage: “The Fifth Amendment is no mere formality. It is among the best defenses against government overreach that Americans enjoy. We should guard it vigorously. Anytime you’re asked to talk to the police about an incident you are involved in, there are just four words you need to say: “I want a lawyer.”
And then please for the love of God, shut up.