5 Things To Never Say To The Police

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Woman being questioned by police during traffic stop

It is important to choose your words carefully when interacting with law enforcement. Every word you say and every action you take can impact the outcome of any legal proceeding that may follow. Understanding your rights–and more importantly, what not to say to the police–can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a life-altering event.

In this blog, we will provide some practical advice for managing police interactions, emphasizing caution and awareness in these critical moments. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge you need to act confidently in these situations, offering guidance that protects both your rights and your future.

1. Never Make Admissions Of Guilt

Encounters with law enforcement can be intimidating. It’s common to want to say things that you believe could help show cooperation or defuse the situation. While you should be polite and compliant when speaking with police officers, it’s crucial to remember that even partial admissions of guilt can be detrimental to your case.

The Power of Words

When you interact with the police, your words are not just casual conversation–they become statements that can be used in court. An admission of guilt, no matter how minor it seems at the time, can become a significant piece of evidence against you. What you believe to be an innocent statement or an attempt to explain your side can be interpreted as a confession. Here are some examples of how seemingly harmless statements can be used against you:

  1. “I only had two drinks.” This statement might seem like a trivial admission, but it can be used to support a DUI charge by establishing that you consumed alcohol before driving.
  2. “I was just looking at my phone for a second.” In the context of a traffic stop or after an accident, this could be construed as an admission of distracted driving, which could be used against you in court.
  3. “I didn’t see the stop sign.” This might come off as an honest mistake, but legally, it’s an admission that you were not paying attention to the road or disregarding traffic laws, which can be used to demonstrate negligence.
  4. “I’m sorry, I was speeding.” Apologizing or admitting to speeding, even if meant to be polite or remorseful, is a direct admission of breaking traffic laws.
  5. “I thought I was okay to drive.” This statement can be particularly damaging in DUI cases, as it suggests knowledge of impairment but a decision to drive regardless, indicating recklessness.

It’s important to remember that during a traffic stop or similar circumstances, police are actively trying to gather evidence and identify potential violations of the law. Each admission could lead to additional charges and feed into the narrative the prosecution might build against you, potentially leading to convictions and harsher penalties. In legal matters, your words carry the weight of evidence, and what you say can—and will—be used against you in a court of law.

During interactions with law enforcement, it’s not just about what you say but how it can be interpreted. Protect yourself by being cautious with your words and, when in doubt, asserting your right to remain silent. This is not about hiding the truth but about ensuring your rights are protected in a legal system where every word counts.

2. Never Consent to Searches

One of the most fundamental rights afforded to individuals in the United States is the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, as outlined in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Here’s why you should never consent to searches without a warrant and how it relates to the concept of probable cause:

Protecting Your Rights

When you allow law enforcement to search your property—be it your vehicle, home, or person—you are essentially waiving your Fourth Amendment rights. This waiver can lead to the discovery of incriminating evidence that may not have been otherwise accessible to the police. It’s crucial to assert your rights respectfully but firmly, stating that you do not consent to any searches without a warrant. Remember, refusing a search does not imply guilt; it simply means you are exercising your constitutional rights.

Understanding Probable Cause

Probable cause is a legal standard that requires more than just a suspicion—it necessitates that law enforcement has concrete and reasonable grounds to believe a search is justified. This could be due to evidence of a crime or the belief that evidence related to a crime will be found in the place to be searched. Without probable cause, any search conducted without your consent or a valid warrant is potentially unlawful, and any resulting evidence gathered could be inadmissible in court.

Probable cause requires that the police officer has enough evidence to warrant a prudent person to believe that you committed the alleged offense, or to believe you are in possession of the evidence law enforcement is seeking to obtain. Reasonable suspicion, a lower standard than probable cause, requires more than a mere hunch. Together, this means the officers must have specific and articulable facts that cause it to be more likely than not that the evidence exists and not simply a hunch of its existence.

A warrantless search may still be deemed lawful under certain circumstances if probable cause exists. However, by not consenting to searches, you preserve your rights and provide an opportunity for any search conducted to be scrutinized in court for its legality.

Tips On Refusing Searches

  • Stay Calm and Respectful: If asked to consent to a search, calmly and clearly state that you do not consent to any searches without a warrant.
  • Inquire About Detainment: Politely ask if you are free to go or if you are being detained. Being detained requires probable cause, and if none exists, you should be allowed to leave. This fact is critical and forms the basis for a number of dismissals and favorable plea agreements when officers detain an individual without just cause. 
  • Seek Legal Counsel: If you find yourself in a situation where a search is being insisted upon without a warrant, it’s crucial to assert your desire to speak to a lawyer. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide guidance on how to proceed and ensure your rights are protected.

3. Don't Give Additional Details

Just as it is important to not make admissions of guilt, it is essential to not offer more information than necessary in an encounter with law enforcement. Volunteering more information than what is legally required can inadvertently lead to self-incrimination. This could include providing information about your whereabouts, actions, or intentions–even if it seems innocuous, it can lead to further investigation and potential legal complications.

Law enforcement officers are trained to detect inconsistencies or clues in your statements that could suggest criminal activity. Even if you have nothing to hide, your words can be taken out of context or used to establish probable cause for further scrutiny. For example, if a police officer asks where you’ve been and you mention leaving a bar, this could prompt the officer to investigate you for DUI. Always stay aware that providing specifics about your recent activities could unknowingly align you with patterns of criminal behavior.

What To Do When Talking To Police

  • Stick to the Basics: Only provide information that is requested and legally required, such as your identification. Avoid elaborating on your answers or offering unsolicited information.
  • Be Aware of What You Say: Be mindful of casual conversation with law enforcement, as anything you say can be considered voluntary and used as evidence. Even offhand comments can be interpreted in ways you might not expect.
  • Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent: Remember, you have the right to remain silent. Politely inform the officer that you choose not to speak without a lawyer present.

4. Don’t Make Threats Or Lie

Sometimes, interactions with law enforcement can seem heated and stress-inducing, but it is imperative to approach these situations with a level head. Making threats or lying to law enforcement officials not only exacerbates the situation but can also lead to significant legal repercussions. Let’s explore the importance of remaining calm and honest during interactions with police, and how a criminal defense lawyer could possibly leverage this to your favor in court:

The Consequences of Threats and Lies

Threatening law enforcement, whether verbally or through actions, can result in immediate and severe consequences, including arrest or use of force. Moreover, threats can lead to charges that compound any existing legal issues you may be facing. Similarly, lying to law enforcement during an investigation complicates your case, as inconsistencies in your story can be used as evidence of guilt. It’s vital to understand that honesty does not mean incriminating yourself; rather, it’s about not providing false information. Threats may also lead to much more serious charges including assault on a first-responder, a charge that has mandatory jail time and mandatory fines including but not limited to a minimum of 30 days in jail and a minimum $5,000 fine.

Bodycam Footage and the Importance of Cooperation

Many police officers wear body cameras while they are out on patrol, and the footage they capture is commonly used as evidence in the courtroom. Criminal defense lawyers can often obtain bodycam footage from police departments, providing an objective record of the interaction. This can potentially highlight discrepancies in the officer’s account, proving compliance and respectful behavior on your part, or even corroborating your version of events.

However, if the bodycam footage shows you clearly being disruptive, threatening, or lying to police, this can become a significant hurdle in achieving a positive outcome in your case. That’s why it is essential to remain calm and cooperative during police encounters. Any lies may also affect your constitutional right to testify because your credibility would be called into question if you make certain statements on the night of the rest but you try to provide an alternative explanation while on the stand at trial.

This doesn’t mean waiving your rights or consenting to searches and questioning without legal representation. Stick to the plan of action we’ve stated earlier in this blog–be respectful, comply with basic requests (such as providing identification), and clearly invoking your rights when necessary.

Tips On Staying Calm Around Police

  • Stay Informed: Know your rights and the legal limits of police authority. Understanding what officers can and cannot do can help you remain calm in a tense situation.
  • Limit Physical Movements: Sudden or unexpected movements can be misinterpreted as a threat. Keep your hands visible and follow instructions regarding movements.
  • Avoid Confrontation About Your Rights: While it’s important to know and assert your rights, do so in a clear and non-confrontational manner. Arguing about the legality of the officer’s actions on the spot is unlikely to help and could exacerbate the situation.

5. Don’t Say Anything Without a Lawyer Present

In any encounter with law enforcement, especially when facing potential criminal charges, one of the most essential rights you have is the right to legal representation. Invoking this right and choosing to remain silent until your lawyer is present can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Here’s why it’s essential to request a lawyer before answering any potentially incriminating questions, and how a criminal defense lawyer can protect your rights and guide you through the legal process:

Invoking Your Right to Remain Silent

The right to remain silent is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment to prevent self-incrimination. If you’ve been detained or you are under arrest, it’s your prerogative to politely but firmly state that you wish to remain silent and will not answer further questions without a lawyer present. Having a lawyer on your side is about more than just legal representation in court—it’s about ensuring your rights are protected throughout the entire legal process.

A criminal defense lawyer can:

  • Advise on Your Rights: They inform you of your rights and the implications of any actions you take, helping you make informed decisions.
  • Navigate the Legal System: Your lawyer acts as your guide, ensuring all procedures are followed and that you understand each step.
  • Strategize Your Defense: A lawyer assesses the evidence, identifies weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and develops a defense strategy tailored to your situation.
  • Negotiate on Your Behalf: Criminal defense lawyers can work towards favorable conditions for bail, plea bargains, or even getting charges dropped.

Requesting a Lawyer

When you are requesting a lawyer, being clear and direct is key. Simply state, “I want to speak to a lawyer.” At this point, officers are required to stop questioning you until your lawyer is present. You can make this request at any time—whether at the start of the interaction or any point thereafter. There is no wrong time to assert your right to legal representation.

Get The Defense You Deserve

At Barnes & Fersten, we understand the gravity of these moments and are here to offer the support and representation you need. If you’re facing legal challenges in Tennessee, reach out to our criminal defense lawyers in Knoxville today. Our legal team is dedicated to advocating for you every single step of the way. Together, we can build a strong defense that protects your rights and aims for the best possible outcome in your case.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.