Thursday, July 31, 2008

Remaining silent

I was raised to believe that the police were friendly, and I’ve known genuinely decent and friendly cops. I’ve chatted with plenty of cops on street corners, asked them for directions, reported crimes, and offered witness statements. I never used to worry about talking to the police, because I never had anything to hide.

I still have nothing to hide, but I’ve learned that it is perilous to talk to a law enforcement officer of any variety. That still distresses me, because our society is very poorly served by a system where honest and law-abiding citizens face serious risks from talking to the police. But there are in fact numerous reasons that every defense attorney will tell you to never talk to the police, even if you have done nothing wrong and even if you want to tell the police the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some of those reasons are laid out clearly, if quickly, by law professor James Duane in a 27-minute lecture. You may follow his reasoning and still disagree with his conclusions, as do many of the commenters on that page, simply because his conclusions are distressing. I’ll just point out that Duane goes out of his way to assume an ideal world in which the police officer you talk to is completely honest and well-intentioned, and his conclusions hold even in such a world.

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