Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Don't talk to the police!

(... at least, not without your lawyer present.)

If you’re like me, the vast majority of your exposure to the American legal system comes from TV and movies.

So, who is it that we usually see “pleading the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination”?

That’s right, the evil mafia don ... the guy who we in the audience know is guilty as sin.

I don’t know about you, but that experience has always left me with sort of a funny taste in my mouth about the necessity, the legitimacy — the justice — of the Fifth Amendment.

Well, no more.

In the brief video presentation Don’t Talk to the Police — In praise of the Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against yourself, Law professor James Duane (27 mins.) and police investigator George Bruch (21 mins.) explain why you and I should always “take the 5th”:

[A]ny lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to police under any circumstances.
~ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in
Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 59 (1949 - Justice
Jackson concurring in part and dissenting in part)

This constitutional protection must not be interpreted in a hostile or niggardly spirit. Too many, even those who should be better advised, view this privilege as a shelter for wrongdoers. They too readily assume that those who invoke it are either guilty of crime or commit perjury in claiming the privilege.
~ Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422 (1956)

One of the Fifth Amendment’s basic functions is to protect innocent men who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances. Truthful responses of an innocent witness, as well as those of a wrongdoer, may provide the government with incriminating evidence from the speaker’s own mouth.
~ Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17 (2001 - internal
punctuation and citations omittted)
Prof. Duane is very easy to listen to — quick, personable and funny (if a bit toungue-tied at times). Bruch is a bit more reserved, but he gives you the same advice from the cop’s perspective.

Watch it, then pass it along to everyone you know.

The time to be aware of your legal rights is now … not when you find yourself in “a situation.”