Interviewer: What are some of the top mistakes you see people make that hurts their ability to have a good defense or a proper defense or makes their situation worse?
Paul Geller: A lot of the time we’re raised to be honest with police – and we should. We are trying to raise our kids and operate in a society where we have respect for law enforcement and live by the Golden Rule – do unto others as we would want it done unto ourselves – and to be honest with police as well. Having said that, more and more, if you look around there are overzealous police officers who, in my opinion, are given a gun and a badge and they’re young men just like some of the people I see come into my office: not always highly-educated and it’s like playing Call of Duty in real life.
That’s the only reason they get into law. Law enforcement should be more about helping the community and so, a lot times, police will begin an investigation – whether it’s something as a simple as a DUI to something as serious as a murder – and cajole the suspect into a discussion. Oftentimes, especially on serious cases, when the defendant or suspect is trying to be honest, they find themselves backed into a corner oftentimes saying things that may not even necessarily be true, but may be twisted and then written into a police report as though it were a confession, or those words came out of the suspect’s mouth, which is not the case many times.
I’ve seen that from recorded statements or recorded interviews where my clients do not say what the police write down, but they write it down in that type of description. So, a lot of the times, I think that what people do is not realize the seriousness of what they are about to convey to a police officer.
So, they make those statements and then they come to my office, and you really don’t want to do it in that order. You want them to come speak with a knowledgeable attorney first. Then, we can see how the case may play out.
Interviewer: Do you think that people try to reason with the police or think they can talk their way out of the situation or the cop will understand what they’re saying and just let them go?
Paul Geller: Yes, without a doubt. I’ve had many people say, “Well, I just thought if I tell the police officer this is what happened, things will be okay.” “He told me I wouldn’t get in trouble and that was my chance to talk and so that’s why I did it.” Or, they will oftentimes say to me, “He was really nice to me.” ” I told him what was going on. He was nice.” “Yes he took me to jail, but he was really nice to me and so it was okay.”
I always follow that up with, “Yes, he was really nice to you while he was putting the handcuffs on you and arresting you. Now you have to post bail and now you have a criminal case against you. So, I’m glad it was a pleasant experience, but you now have a criminal charge.”
Interviewer: Are police allowed to lie to you and are you allowed to lie to police?
Paul Geller: Police are absolutely allowed to lie to you and if you lie to a police officer, expect it to come back to haunt you in court. So, the best thing to do is to simply say, “I’m not saying anything without my lawyer.”
Interviewer: What about if the police say to you, “Oh, if you say something it will go easier for you,” or, “We know you didn’t do it; we just need you to tell us what happened”?
Paul Geller: It never will. There have been cases that I have handled, specifically drug cases, where I have had clients who have cooperated with the police in response to that question. Oftentimes, however, that relationship between the suspect and the police will turn at some point and the clients find themselves being prosecuted anyway. So, it’s never a good idea to provide that information, because simply all the police officer is doing is gaining a confession from the suspect or the arrestee.
A friend of mine who is law enforcement for a local agency told me that their policy was rather than Mirandize and warn the person that their statements could be used against them, do not Mirandize them, get a confession or a statement from them, and then try to get that statement again later on after you Mirandize them. The reason was, in the law, at least in California, if the police gain a statement or a confession that is ultimately suppressed or thrown out by the judge because the person was not properly Mirandized, the prosecution can still use that statement later on if the defendant were to testify and say something different.
The judge would then instruct the jury that the statement is simply being offered to show that the person is a liar and not being consistent, which is completely ridiculous because a jury would disregard that and absolutely take the statement as being truth. Police officers know this, so they will bend the rules and do whatever they need to do to try to get a confession, to close a case, and ultimately to try to get a promotion. They’re not getting promoted for arresting innocent people.
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