Q: What are some common misperceptions people have regarding the police?
M. Matulka: That the police are always there to help you. They are not. There is no such thing as “Officer Friendly” when you are under the suspicion of the police. Anything that you tell them can and will be used against you. That is why you have the right to remain silent and you should absolutely exercise that right when dealing with the police. It is not uncommon for the police to lie in attempt to get people to talk or make a false confession. Your best protection is to tell the police that you want a lawyer and then get one as early as possible.
Q: What are some common misconceptions people who have been charged with a crime have?
M. Matulka: Some people underestimate the complexity of the “system” that they have just fallen into. Law is complicated and ever-changing and the criminal justice system is a big behemoth of a bureaucracy that is full of lots of rules and procedures. Just as you wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself (even minor surgery), representing yourself simply is not a realistic or wise option in anything but the most minor of infractions.
Having an experienced attorney is not just about having someone on your side that knows the law, it’s also about having someone who knows the rules, the procedures, and the personalities involved – such as which defense the judge will accept or not accept and what information is important to share with the prosecutor. In many cases, unless you have an attorney, you cannot even get access to parts of the criminal justice system, such as negotiating with the prosecutor.
It is important to have someone represent you who has a solid reputation and is respected by the court and the various parties involved. Your attorney is your face to the court and your voice in defense.
Q: What is the most important piece of advice you would offer someone charged with a crime or being questioned about a crime?
M. Matulka: Absolutely do not talk to the police and absolutely demand a lawyer!
Please understand that the police use a lot of different strategies to get people to talk to them. Often, the police will encourage you into thinking that they just want to hear “your side of the story” to clear things up. They may joke with you or be very friendly and reassuring. After you tell your side of the story, the police, who may not have had enough to arrest you, now have all they need. If they do not think that they can persuade you to tell your side of the story, they’ll often turn “bad cop” and threaten to charge you with more crimes or more serious crimes. Be polite but firm (and repeat as necessary) “I want a lawyer” and do not answer their questions or tell them anything about what they are investigating.
Remember, you need an attorney if you have been charged with a crime (including if there are outstanding warrants for your arrest). You also need an attorney if you are being investigated about a crime. In most cases, the earlier an attorney gets involved, the better. If you haven’t been charged yet, an attorney can contact the investigators and try to stop any charges from being filed. If you try to do this alone, anything that you say to them to try to persuade them to not charge you can later be used against you. If you know that warrants have been issued against you, an attorney can help you turn yourself in and can speak to a magistrate about getting you released.