Sunday, August 3, 2008

name, rank, and serial number

In my Bad Self days, I was stopped and/or detained by the police for questioning more than once. I'd had dinned into me the mantra Give them nothing but I always found myself beginning to talk; I wanted, on some level, to be liked. I wanted to be a Good Detainee; I wanted them to understand I was a nice girl in terrible circumstances. (I wanted the world to be a reasonable place.) I always managed to shut myself up eventually, but, oh, the impulse was there.

Here's a video that explains better than I ever could why it's a bad idea, a very very bad idea, even if you're the most super innocent on the planet, to say anything to police if they want to ask you a few questions in connection with a crime. It's a 25-minute argument by a law professor for pleading the fifth.

Law enforcement people are not kidding when they say 'anything you say may be used in evidence against you'. Anything. And here's the kicker: nothing you say may be used in evidence for you, because then it becomes hearsay. The lawyer here talks too fast, and he's just a wee bit smug, but the information he delivers is excellent. I recommend that you watch it.

If for some reason you can't see the video, follow this link instead. (Thanks, Cindy.)




  1. I had no idea this was true.
    Thank you for sharing all of that with us!

    When I was a child, I hated the notion that someone may not like me or that I could make an authority figure mad at me, so I did everything I could to be a "good kid" in their eyes. That impulse would have followed me into a scenario with the police if I were ever questioned. Thanks to your post, that won't happen.

  2. It's scary, isn't it?

    I think the hope of being liked is what gets so many people into situations that are bad for them, sometimes fatally so.

  3. Great advice!

    I've recently read "Beat the Heat" from Katya Komisaruk and Tim Maloney, which (among other things about handling encounters with law enforcement) also tells you not to say anything, including lots of examples as to why not and what could go wrong if you do. That book/comic was a real eye opener for me :-)

    It also mentions things like how they might trick you into "helping" them, and using those feelings you mentioned about wanting to be helpful.

  4. I've met many people in various branches of law enforcement and most of them are very nice. But they have a job to do, and their goals are sometimes at odds with those they're questioning. So, yes, being an informed citizen (or resident, like me) is a must. The Komisaruk/Maloney book sounds worth checking out.

  5. This brought back a very disturbing encounter I had with the Kansas Highway Patrol in the summer 1995. With cold clarity I became aware of how easy it was for those in authority to violate my civil rights.

    My daughter was 18 and we were returning home to KS from a trip to Texas. About 30 miles from our home we encountered road construction on 69 Hwy and had to come to a complete stop. An 18 wheeler with a flatbed of a covered cargo was stopped in front of us.

    When traffic was allowed to move on, the truck rolled back into my car,I heard the crunch,honked and blinked my lights, but the driver took off.

    When we got to a double lane highway I pulled along side the truck, downed the passenger window,and shouted "you hit my car!" He flipped me off and continued on.

    I again pulled up alonside and had my daugther snap pictures of the logo on the door and dropped behind to snap his license tag.

    I had no cell phone. I stopped at a small town near my home and called the Highway Patrol. I was told to go BACK to the county where I was hit and report it there!

    When I declined, they agreed to send an officer to my location-in front of a small grocery store.

    The officer was out of a bad movie. Dressed liked a "horse soldier",big gun,club,laced up boots hat cocked over his forehead, tall, stern expression-all in his intimidating glory.

    When I rolled down my window, he told me to turn off the ignition, asked for MY license and registration, told me to get out of the car and to get into his cruiser!

    He instructed my daughter to stay where she was. I told him that she was paraplegic, her wheelchair was in my trunk, and that she could not sit for long in the heat because of medication she took.

    He put me into his car, called in my information, told me to get out and open my trunk!

    I kept trying to tell him that I had called HIM for help,and why was I being asked to do these things when I was trying to report an accident and the guy who hit my car was most likely long gone while we were going through all this.

    He made me open the trunk,pull out the wheelchair, our luggage,did a cursory look, and then had me put it all back in.

    By this time I was just f--- furious with him and I think if I had allowed myself to express that he would have arrested me on the spot.

    He then took down what information I had tried to tell him from the beginning, told me to "drive carefully" and left.

    I tried to file a complaint with the Kansas Bureau of Law Enforcement but the whole incident went into one of those paper driven "good old boys" blackholes.

    I will NEVER trust any law enforcement entity again...amen cried the congregation to the content of the video you shared.

  6. linda, I know that helpless feeling but I'm very sorry you had to go through it. Especially that you had to feel unable to protect your daughter. When cops decide on something there's nothing you can do except force the issue, and that, frankly, has the potential to be dangerous.

    Most law enforcement people are fine, upstanding (etc.) officers of the law, but it only takes a handful of less than fine, upstanding (etc.) to turn a citizen sour.

    I've been manhandled by the police. I've been thrown in jail, had my clothes removed, and searched. I've had a nine-member K-9 squad invade my flat for no apparent reason. And so on.

    In this country, I've had nothing but good experiences but, still, I'm wary.

  7. Police are not our friends. Many are fine, decent ethical people, but they are not our friends. I sat in on a police interrogation with a friend, and heard them try to twist his words every way from Sunday. I kept saying, "don't answer that." He didn't, and we were out of there after only six questions. Most people aren't so lucky. I was particularly enraged to hear what happened to Linda!

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  9. Except, y'know, when they actually are our friends. I've never had a very good friend who was in law enforcement, but I've had a reasonably close person who was an immigration/customs person, neighbours with coast guard intelligence, acquaintances and drinking friends who were CIA, naval intelligence, beat cops, ranking police officers, and so on. But no, when they had their working hat on, I would never think of them as friendly, not on my side at all.

  10. Unfortunately, this just serves to highlight our discussion about "good cops, bad cops.";_ylt=AklqZQDdjX2Mqw7lb2IjoW9H2ocA

  11. Interesting about the Hearsay rule under the US Federal Rules of Evidence. Under British style codes of evidence – followed on to most ex-colonies – an account from a person who repeats what they themselves heard from the Defendant does not fall under the Hearsay rule as this is a direct observation. Only indirect observations (“She said her neighbour’s son saw the Defendant lurking by the window”) are Hearsay.

    It is disturbing to me that police officers in the US are not bound to report everything they witness, as per this video. Under the English style legal profession, officers of the Court (including Prosecutors and lawyers) are obliged to avail and present all relevant materials in a matter, even materials detrimental to their case. Prosecutors in particular are obliged to bring to the Court’s attention material that is favourable to the Defendant because the onus of proof is on the Prosecution and the standard is beyond reasonable doubt. When evidence suggest that the Prosecution cannot fulfil all the elements of a charge, that standard has not been met and the Defendant then does not have a case to meet. Likewise, if police evidence is not made available to the Defence within reasonable time, the Court will be very unhappy with the investigation.

    All these rules are not without exceptions, of course, but they are fundamental to the right to a fair trial. Interestingly, the Right to Silence goes back a long long way and when in the dock, choosing not the Plead presumes a plea of Not Guilty and a trial must be ordered.

    However, a key difference, I think, in many modern court systems is the move away from the Jury system to a Single Judge sitting in nearly all cases, except for the most heinous and where public perception is an element (eg Defamation trials). This may affect the development of evidentiary rules.


  12. I'm prejudiced on two counts, I think. I would rather be tried under the British system; I understand it more viscerally. And I would rather deal with a judge than a jury. I don't trust groupthink, never have.

  13. Does it have anything to do with the US lower court Judges being elected, rather than selected?


  14. My prejudice? No. That stems from my belief, my experience, that groups of people revert to an IQ of the smallest shoe size...

  15. Hating the police...Heavy sigh...

  16. jo, I've been very, very careful to make it plain that I do not hate the police. These are direct quotes: "I've met many people in various branches of law enforcement and most of them are very nice. But they have a job to do, and their goals are sometimes at odds with those they're questioning." "Most law enforcement people are fine, upstanding (etc.) officers of the law, but it only takes a handful of less than fine, upstanding (etc.) to turn a citizen sour." "In this country, I've had nothing but good experiences but, still, I'm wary."

    And I am wary. I'm wary of doctors, too. Doesn't mean I hate them.