I remember my days at Northeast Alabama Police Academy as if it were yesterday. As I look back at that period of my life, I do so with a tremendous amount of pride and joy. Those days were some of the most enjoyable and wonderful days of my long and memorable law enforcement career. Rookie police officers and deputy sheriffs from all across Alabama were in my 110th Basic Session in Jacksonville, Alabama at Jacksonville State University. At the academy we were taught how to conduct a traffic stop, write police reports, handcuffing and defensive tactics (Pressure Point and Control Tactics), firearms, pursuit driving, etc. Lots of lessons learned, for sure!
Of the countless lessons I learned over those four months, one lesson in particular resonated more with me than all of the other lessons. It was a simple but true law enforcement philosophy that to this very day brings a wry smile to my face. I remember the crusty old police detective who was lecturing our class on Interview and Interrogation Techniques for Law Enforcement. So what was it that this old timer said to me and my classmates that had such a tremendous impact on my life? What was this profound law enforcement fortune cookie bit of wisdom that I still recall to this day after so many years? He said when dealing with a suspect in a crime, "Be nice...you're selling prison."
Think about that line for just a moment and let it sink into your mind. Be nice...you're selling prison. That's some profound stuff, huh? But how does this little police academy teaching moment tidbit relate to YOU? The last thing that you want to read is the seemingly random ramblings of a lawyer waxing poetic about his time as a rookie cop back in the day, right? Wrong. This is a lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn who is arrested or interrogated or interviewed by police. This is a lesson that can make the difference in you going home a free person or being incarcerated in prison for the rest of your natural life. Admittedly, that might sound a bit overly dramatic. Have I got your attention now?
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states (among other liberties) that you cannot be forced to be a witness against yourself in court. In plain English, that means that the government cannot FORCE you to take the stand and testify in court and to make statements or reveal information that can ultimately lead to your conviction and imprisonment. It means that the government, NOT YOU, has the burden to prove you "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." It means that you DO NOT have to "prove" that you are innocent. Again, the government has the burden of proof to prove your guilt. That also translates that YOU DO NOT have to make ANY statements to the police if you are being interviewed or interrogated by the police regarding a criminal matter that you may or may not be involved in. It means that you have the right not to make any statements or comments at all when you are speaking with the police. In plain terms, it means that you have the right to SHUT UP!!
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states (among other liberties) that you have the right to have a lawyer assist you in your defense if you are charged with a crime. It means that the government cannot bring criminal charges against you and then deny you the right to have an attorney assist you and provide you legal counsel on the matter. That also translates to YOU HAVE THE RIGHT to have a lawyer at your side while you are being questioned by the government. That lawyer's obligation to you is to make sure that your constitutional rights are protected and preserved as you now find yourself in potential jeopardy. In plain terms, it means that you have the right to LAWYER UP!!
So you can see, you have the constitutionally protected RIGHT to SHUT UP and LAWYER UP! My advice is straightforward and simple in theory and execution. If you are being questioned by the government, invoke your constitutional rights to SHUT UP and LAWYER UP! I DID NOT say that you should actively or physically resist a law enforcement officer if he makes an enforcement decision to arrest you. DO NOT resist or fight or argue with a law enforcement officer. It's dangerous, its foolish and it accomplishes absolutely nothing. Further, there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to get into an ugly, berating name calling cuss-fest with a law enforcement officer. It does nothing to assist your case and only serves to make you look like an ass.
So let me sum it up for you, or, as I like to say, let me break this down like fractions for you. If you find yourself involved in a criminal investigation, keep your big mouth closed! Make NO statements AT ALL! SHUT UP and LAWYER UP! Don't actively or physically resist arrest. Doing so makes a bad situation worse and could get someone hurt or even killed. Be respectful and polite. Just never forget that all police officers have been trained to be persuasive salesmen. Now you know exactly what it is they are selling!!