It seems innocent enough, and perhaps it appears that way. An officer calls you on the phone and expresses an interest in talking to you about an incident. Perhaps, he says, you have information. You don’t believe you have done anything wrong, and since the cop doesn’t explain your rights to you, you figure this is a friendly conversation. Nothing to worry about, here, right? Not necessarily.
Understanding the Constitution
The average person has heard the Miranda warning and believes they understand it. If you are a suspect in a crime, law enforcement must state that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, before questioning you. They believe that – absent this warning – they have nothing to fear. They also erroneously believe that, in the event they give an incriminating statement, a court will nullify it based on the missing Miranda warning.
Understand that nothing could be further from the truth. What is missing from the “common understanding” above is the simple fact that the Miranda warning must be administered only after you have been placed under arrest.
When a cop approaches – in person or over the phone – and engages you in seemingly benign conversation, understand that you are in a “non-custodial” interview. What does that mean for you? In a nutshell, it means that everything you say to that officer can be used against you in court.
This may have fairly limited repercussions during a traffic stop, where you blurt out, “Oh officer, I’m late for work.” – thereby admitting guilt for speeding.
Where the danger comes
The danger, however, is when you are facing serious consequences. Even a potential misdemeanor (for example, intoxicated driving) can have long-term repercussions: from employment to housing, and – in the event of a divorce – even child custody.
Silence is golden. When dealing with the law, remember: you’re empowered to protect yourself and your future. You can always say no to any conversation with a cop.