You arrive home or to work and you see a detective’s business card on the door, or you get a message that a detective would like a call back from you, what do you do? For starters, it is probably best not to panic. There are many reasons why a detective may contact you. You may be a potential witness in a case they are working on, or worse, they finally caught to you about that little incident you were involved in a few months back. Whatever the reason, you should take a minute to consider how to proceed because you may be a suspect or target of their investigation.
You may think that you have done nothing wrong, or you have nothing to hide, and you may want to call the detective just to see what he wants. If you call the detective yourself, remember that the call will be recorded and anything you say can and will be used against you. You should never lie to a detective or guess when you don’t know the answer to the question being asked. It will only lead to problems down the road.
Calling the detective may be perfectly fine. They do need a callback, but I don’t recommend you be the person actually calling them back. If you do, remember the detective won’t show you all of their cards. They may be fishing for information and your responses may mean the difference between you keeping your freedom versus charges being brought against you.
You should keep in mind that detectives are under no obligation to be honest with you. In the broadest sense, they are trying to investigate a crime, and, hopefully being honest and non-biased in their investigation. On too many occasions, I have seen detectives play your best friend and do what is necessary to elicit information. Too often, you answer simply and honestly to basic questions. And, in doing so, you unwittingly put yourself in the crosshairs of the investigation. Your answers may not be “criminal” but they may put you in the wrong place at the wrong time and corroborate parts of the victim’s story. Without your basic corroboration, they would otherwise have no case.
Even when you have answered the questions honestly, you can still run into issues when you try to clarify or change your answer when questioned months later. You may remember further details or learn additional information that causes you to change your response. You may state your response differently or forget part of what you told the detective previously. Unfortunately, detectives will not consider legitimate reasons for differences in your responses to just being human. They will likely perceive any change or inconsistency in your responses as you being less than truthful which will lead to additional scrutiny.
Detectives do not always ask the right questions, and you may not always know the right answers. You may not know the underlying reasons for questions or what the detective may be trying to pin on you. Your answers may be honest, but incomplete: either intentionally or not. Why take any risk?
This is the important part to remember: whenever you are speaking with a detective; shut up! You typically will not do yourself any favors by being an open book. You should be courteous and respectful, but you are not under arrest and there has been no Miranda warning, so you are under no obligation to speak to the detective.
However, if it is on your driver’s license or the detective is at your home, chances are they already know who you are. So, you can safely confirm your identity, but when the more probative questions start, you should consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney. Even answering seemingly harmless questions such as, where do you work, where were you last Tuesday or do you know John Smith, can have unforeseen consequences. Remember, you can’t talk yourself OUT of getting arrested, but you can talk yourself INTO being arrested.
If you find yourself on the telephone or face to face with a detective and he is asking you questions other than who are you, simply say, “I am happy to answer your questions, but my lawyer would be upset if I do it without him present. I will call him and have him contact you to set something up.” That should be the end of the conversation. You do want to make sure that you have the detective’s card and the case or report number to provide to your attorney.
As most police officers will do, he may try to scare you or intimidate you or bait you into saying something more, but there is nothing you can say that will help, it will only make matters worse for you. If the detective persists, keep repeating that your lawyer will call him. The detective really has no other choice but to wait for your criminal defense attorney to call or arrest you. The reality is if he is there to arrest you, he is going to arrest you whether you are talking or not.
If you have been contacted by a detective, a criminal defense attorney can contact the detective for you. He will try to determine the nature of the investigation and the potential risks it poses to your freedom. He will determine the allegations and immediately start to formulate a strategy to prove your innocence or mitigate the damage. This can all be done without you having to face a blind line of questioning without the steady hand of an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you.
A word of caution: Either have your attorney contact the detective or do so yourself. Do not dodge his calls or refuse to answer the door if he comes to your home. If the detective feels as though you are dodging him, he has little choice but to escalate things. He will get a warrant to arrest you or search your premises and you will likely end up in custody.
You may have already had a detective leave a message for you, or perhaps you are anticipating a visit from a detective. Now is the time to get help. Howard Snader is a former prosecutor and Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist with decades of experience with serious criminal matters. Call The Snader Law Group today and schedule a free consultation to discuss your options and formulate a plan to keep your freedom.