Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Be Wary of Voluntary Police Interviews
Last Night's Better Call Saul was brilliant. It was brilliant in many ways, but I am only going to focus on one for the purposes of this blog. And that concerns a police tactic that I am all too familiar with, and that I wish many of my clients understood before they spoke with the police. It's a tactic I'm not particularly thrilled with, since it is an attempt to circumvent the Constitution and hang a person by their own petard under the guise of "consent."
I'm about to talk about the details of the episode, so here is the mandatory SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen the February 22, 2016 episode entitled, "Cobbler," and you've DVRed it or intend to catch one of the encore showings, don't read below.
I love Mike Ehrmantraut. We know from Breaking Bad that he is a former Philadelphia Police Officer who had his own trouble with the law. He's not above profiting off of criminal activity. But he's smart, and having been on the inside, he knows police tactics.
Enter Pryce, an employee at a pharmaceutical company who tries to make a little money on the side selling pharmaceutical grade drugs to street criminal Nacho Vargas. In season one, Pryce hires Ehrmantraut to be his bodyguard for the drug exchanges.
Pryce gets a bargain in Erhmantraut, but doesn't realize it. When Mike balks at going to a meet in Pryce's new gaudy Range Rover, Pryce fires him. In his naivety, he then lets Vargas see his car, thereby giving Vargas the information he needs to rip Pryce off. By the end of episode one, Pryce has reported a break-in at his house to the police because his beloved baseball card collection was stolen. Of course, the police get suspicious of Pryce's car and the reason for the break-in. When Pryce is out of the room, they find his hiding spot in the baseboard behind the couch. But, of course, there is nothing they can do about it right then and there.
In episode two, we meet Pryce again as he comes to the police station for an interview with the police. Unknowingly, he once again becomes the luckiest stupid criminal alive, as he runs into Mike, who is the parking lot attendant. When Mike realizes why Pryce is there, he pulls him aside to tell him why he should not speak with the police.
As Mike explains, the police are suspicious. At this point they have nothing. So they invite Pryce in to speak with them voluntarily. They intend to be friendly and lull him into a false sense of security. Then they will pounce on him and try to get him to confess the illegal activity that made him the victim of the break-in in the first place. Pryce is reluctant to believe this, but agrees to leave the station when Mike promises to get his baseball card collection back.
And that is the tactic I wish my clients understood. I have met many people who have been invited to the police station just to talk. The police promise, "look you're not in trouble. We only want to understand what happened." They may even say, "If you did nothing wrong, you'd be doing yourself a favor." If you go in, they proceed to ask questions for hours, wearing you down. They hope you don't realize you can have a lawyer. They may even say, "Hey, if you didn't do anything wrong, why do you need a lawyer." And then the conversation continues . . . voluntarily they claim. At no time do they tell you that you can get up and leave. And if you do, again they ask, "Why are you in a hurry? We only want to understand what happened. You're not in trouble now." So you stay, and worn down, you give the police the confession they want.
In court, statements from such an interview are difficult to suppress. The police will claim that no one was under arrest, that the person was free to leave, he just chose to stay and tell us what happened.
The moral of the story is quite frankly don't trust the police if they ask you to come in for a "voluntary" interview, and claim that you are not trouble. In truth, they only do this when they suspect criminal activity, but have no proof that they can use in court. They are looking to trick you into giving a confession without a lawyer present, and then claim that the constitutional rights do not apply because it was voluntary. While you may believe you have anything to fear, in reality any such contact should only be done in the presence of a lawyer representing you.