Crunch Time … Shots Fired

Last week, we discussed how to call 911 after a confrontation, depending on whether or not shots were fired. Once shots actually are fired, give your name and current location, saying only that you need the police and an ambulance right away, and hang up. Then, immediately call your attorney, giving your name, location and a request that he or she call you right away and that it’s an emergency. When shots are fired, you will have only a few minutes before police arrive.

We also discussed how to properly and safely greet arriving officers. Obviously, comply immediately with all officers’ commands. Just don’t answer any questions. Tell the officers only that the assailant tried to kill you — regardless of whether that assailant has fled or is down at the scene — and that you don’t wish to say anything more until your attorney is present. Talk with an experienced self-defense attorney about the exact wording he or she recommends, then practice saying it word for word until it is embedded into your memory. This is important because, contrary to what is shown in movies and TV dramas, police arriving on the scene are not required to give you the Miranda warning until they formally take you into custody.

However, recent court decisions have held that you yourself must “immediately and unambiguously” assert your right to remain silent and have your attorney present. As a result, if you do not clearly invoke your 5th Amendment rights, even your silence can be used against you in court. Once you’ve asserted your rights, police are no longer allowed to question you. But they may continue talking to you, often saying something like, “That’s fine, but we just have a couple of questions … strictly routine.” If it’s “routine” it must be okay to talk, right? Wrong. The courts have said that if, after invoking your rights, you then decide to talk to police, it can be reasonably inferred that you have voluntarily rescinded your rights, and police may once again question you.

Once you have lawyered up at the scene, and none of the police officers’ initial tactics have gotten you to talk, you will likely be taken to the station for an interview. This is where you will be subjected to additional interrogation techniques, all designed to get you to verbally engage. Other than outright threats or coercion, the officers can legally employ anything in order to get you to rescind your right to remain silent by engaging them in conversation. They can even lie about anything. The techniques they use even have nicknames. A popular one is the “ticking clock.” They’ll say something like, “Hey, once we turn this over to the state’s attorneys, it will be too late to help you.”

There is also the “it won’t look good” technique, in which they’ll say, “You know, it won’t look good if we have to tell the judge that you refused to cooperate with the police.” Ironically, this ploy only works on nice people; hardcore criminals know better. They don’t care how anything looks to anyone. Neither should you. Keep your mouth shut.

In another ploy, officers simply pretend to be sympathetic. They’ll say, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’d have done the same thing you did.” In your high-stress emotional state, you really want to believe they’re on your side. They aren’t.

There are other such techniques they will employ. Just remember that police, detectives and prosecutors do this every day — you don’t. The best way to prevail is to stay silent until your attorney arrives.

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