Unless you've never watched a cop show on TV, chances are you have heard the famous words, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."
That is the Miranda warning, and thanks to the landmark Supreme Court case,Miranda v. Arizona , it affords accused persons with a reminder that they have a constitutional right not to incriminate themselves.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that, "[no person] shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Those words mean that under no circumstances, does an accused person ever have to talk to police about their alleged crime.
If that's the case, and you have an absolute right against self-incrimination...then why do so many people confess to crimes?
I believe it's basic psychology. When you are in trouble, your survival instincts kick in and you trick yourself into believing that if you just cooperate with the police, everything will work out just fine.
For purposes of this blog entry, let's first dicuss confessions.
A confession is a formal statement given to law enforcement officers. It is done after the Miranda warning has been read, and the accused has been informed of his or her rights, including the right to have a criminal defense attorney in South Florida present during the interview.
A confession is typically an interview conducted by police detectives with a suspect in a crime. Since a detective is almost always involved, the crime is usually serious, such as an aggravated assault or crime involving a firearm, grand theft of a vehicle, a burglary, an armed robbery, a kidnapping, a sex crime, trafficking in narcotics (cocaine, marijuana, alprazolam, heroin, etc...), a marijuana grow house, murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter.
Detectives who conduct these "interviews" may come off as friendly. They may offer the accused food, water, maybe even a cigarette. They will come across as genuinely concerned about the accused's well-being. They are trained extensively in psychology and are likely able to make you feel comfortable.
However, the law actually permits detectives to lie to you during an interrogation. They can tell you they have eyewitnesses when they don't. They can tell you that your co-defendant has flipped on you, when he or she hasn't. They can tell you that they have your fingerprints at the scene of the crime. These coercive and dishonest tactics are used in an effort to scare you into confessing.
The bottom line is this. If you are ever going to speak with law enforcement regarding any criminal matter, DO NOT under any circumstances do so without first speaking to a criminal attorney who handles cases in the area of your arrest, be it Miami-Dade County or Broward County. If you are a suspect in a crime and the police are going to formally interview you, they must read you the Miranda warning, which includes the line, "you have the right to have an attorney present." I recommend you use it. If you are in custody, kindly inform the detectives that you would like to make a phone call to your attorney. If you do not have the number of an attorney on you at that time, call your family, call friends, call anyone who can get in front of a computer and look up a criminal defense attorney for you on the Internet. Get that number from your friend or family member, hang up with them, and then call the attorney. A good criminal defense attorney may be able to get down to the police station to speak with you in private before you potentially make statements to police that can literally ruin your life.
As for "spontaneous statements" and admissions...
A spontaneous statement occurs when the accused simply utters something to police. This happens all the time, usually in cases where detectives are not involved, such as driving while license suspended (DWLS) cases, DUIs, or possession of marijuana. A spontaneous statement can and will be used against, and since it did not come at the hands of police interrogation, it does not require a Miranda warning.
A spontaneous statement in a DWLS case may come when the officer approaches the accused's window during a traffic stop, and the first words out of the accused's mouth are, "Sorry Officer, I know my license is suspended." Now why did you just say that? You have just proven the State's case! The State must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle in the State of Florida, and that at the time, your license was suspended and you had knowledge of that suspension. Your spontaneous statement is the evidence the State needs to prosecute you. And believe me, the officer will write down your statement in his arrest affidavit, and if called to testify, he will tell the jury exactly what you said.
In DUI cases, spontaneous statements are common. Usually, it's the accused telling the officer, "I only had three shots of tequila," as if that's going to make the officer change his or her mind about arresting you. First of all, it won't, secondly, you have just made the State's case stronger by admitting that you had been drinking, and furthermore, how much you had to drink.
The main point of all of this is, do not talk to the police if you are under investigation. This includes a traffic stop. If an officer pulls you over for speeding and asks, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Don't tell him, even if you do know. It's none of his business, and it's your constitutional right not to incriminate yourself.
For more serious offenses, this is even more important. In a case with weak evidence, a confession can be the key to a conviction.
Your silence can never be used against you. No jury in the world will ever hear that you invoked your Miranda right and did not speak to the police. Instead, the State will have to proceed with whatever evidence they have. If it's not much, your chances of acquittal are tremendously higher than if a seasoned detective takes the stand and your confession is introduced to the jury.
Police officers are not your friends. They are sworn agents of the State, County, or City. It is their job to solve crimes. They work hand-in-hand with the prosecutors and only want to see you convicted for the crimes they suspect you have committed.
If you are under investigation, call me, a criminal defense attorney who practices in Miami and Broward. I may be able to advise you and prevent you from incriminating yourself. On the other hand, if you have already confessed to a crime, call me anyway. Confessions can be suppressed if police did not follow proper protocol. Call me to schedule a free, confidential consultation where we can go over the details of your confession to see if we have any legal grounds for getting that confession thrown out.