Mom always said: “Consider consequences of your actions, be polite and don’t talk to strangers.” After a decade of criminal defense practice, I have adapted Mom’s words for official police contacts: Be Smart, Be Nice and Be Quiet.
The first thing to remember about the police is they are people too; they are just doing their job. When you see police officers out and about during your day, make sure to wave and say “Hi!” They have difficult and often dangerous jobs, and we should thank them for what they do.
The second thing you need to remember is that a major part of their job is to gather evidence to convict people (maybe you) of crime, and they are not required to be honest or nice with you to get the job done.
Remembering these two things will go a long way toward ensuring that any official contact you have with an officer will go better for you in both the short and the long term. It will help you both during the initial contact and later if you are charged and need to come see us about your case. (Student Legal Services is in 182 Lory Student Center; bring your CSU ID to make an appointment.)
If you follow these 3 rules, we will have a much better take on your case almost every time:
1. Be Smart.
Think about your words and your actions before you do or say anything. If you give an officer attitude, they will respond with more. Don’t invite them to lose their temper, because they will accept. If you argue or debate with an officer, they will win. No one in the history of mankind has ever won a pissing contest with a uniformed officer of the law. Leave that to us, the professionals, to work it out in court.
Also remember that anything you say will be used against you. This is no joke. It’s not just something you hear on TV; it is very real. Many people have dug holes for themselves, making matters worse by trying to explain away their actions or talk their way out of a situation. Think. Don’t give them ammo to use against you. Respectfully decline to answer any questions. Realize you are MUCH better off saying as little as possible.
2. Be Nice.
It really is as simple as it sounds, and as important as Mom said. If you are polite, things will go much better for you in both the short and the long term. Don’t argue, don’t react, don’t complain. Save that for Monday morning when you talk to us. (182 Lory.)
Item number 17 on the “What if the Police Stop Me?” section of the CSU Police Department Website says: It is important to remember, the first words spoken by you and the officer may very well determine the tone of the conversation.
I agree, but you shouldn’t let the officer “determine the tone” because then you have no control over what will happen. You take the high road; be the bigger person if necessary. Whether the officer is in a good or bad mood, be polite. By taking the initiative and setting a positive tone for the contact, you won’t have to worry nearly as much later on.
Politely say things like: “I’m sorry officer, but [I am going to remain silent], [I do not consent to any searches], [I choose not to do (VOLUNTARY) roadside sobriety tests], and [I will not blow into the (VOLUNTARY) portable breath test].”
As an aside: NEVER blow into a portable breath test. These are the small, portable testers commonly known as a “PBT”. PBT’s are strictly VOLUNTARY and a PBT will rarely if ever help you. Officers often at parties say “Blow in this!” as they stick a PBT in your face. Politely refuse. It is NOT required. If you are arrested for DUI, you must choose either a breath test at the station or a blood test, or you will lose your license, but you should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER blow into a PBT! Ever.
3. Be Quiet
You have the right to remain SILENT. Use it. Often, people think they have only two choices: confess or lie. They forget about SILENT, which is your most powerful protection. This right has existed for over 200 years and for good reason.
The government (police) cannot force you to incriminate yourself. They CANNOT force you to admit you have been doing something wrong. They can demand regular ID, but CANNOT force you to identify yourself as a CSU student. (If you do this, the police may not only charge you, they will forward the report to the university for discipline proceedings. This is a classic example of using what you say against you.)
The police can, however, trick you, intimidate you or just let you run off at the mouth and dig yourself that hole I talked about earlier. The less you say the better. Trust me on that. Very few people in history have gotten themselves in trouble by keeping their mouth shut.
Now, I’m not saying that any of this is easy. I know how intimidating officers can be. Just remember, you are the one with the rights here. Threats to make things worse for you if you exercise your rights are often empty and illegal. If they were going to arrest you, they would have done it already. Even if they arrest you, you’ll be better off in the long term.
Don’t be intimidated; keep your cool. The key to handling such a situation is to follow the 3 simple rules: Be Smart, Be Nice and Be Quiet. Do these things and you are far less likely to end up in our office with a hopeless case.