Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't Talk to the Police

This post will offer a change of pace from the usual Anglican/Episcopal ferment. What I am about to show you reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was fifteen years old, and visiting San Francisco. I was taking part in a chess tournament for juniors (a young Bobby Fischer, just at the start of his career, won it). I had just finished a game, and walked outside to get some light and fresh air. I was wearing my best gray sports jacket; San Francisco was remarkably cool for that time of year. 

As I approached an intersection, I saw two policemen who were looking at me intensely. They conferred briefly, and one of them came up to me and asked: "Do you have any identification?" I did not yet have a driver's license, but I did have a Social Security card, and I produced that (it had no photo, of course; just my signature). The policeman then took my arm and said, "Would you come with us, please?" Before I could assess what was happening, I found myself seated between the two policemen in the back seat of a patrol car that had been parked nearby, and we drove off. I asked where we were going, and one policeman responded courteously, "Not far. You'll see soon enough." They asked me all about where I was from, and what I was doing in San Francisco. In a few minutes the car pulled to the curb again, and we got out, again with me between the two police. There were more policemen all around, with the red lights flashing on their cars. Again, without realizing what was happening, I was guided inside a revolving glass door, and I came into what I realized was the lobby of a bank. There were lights rigged up for backlighting, as when a photographer takes your portrait, and some men in plain clothes were taking flash pictures. I was asked to go over to a blank wall and join three other young men who were standing there---each, like me, tall, blond, and wearing a gray sports jacket! 

It turned out that the bank had been robbed just half an hour earlier---by a tall, blond young man wearing a gray sports jacket, who had fled down the street. The police had simply fanned out, and hauled in all the potential suspects they could spot on the street. We were lined up back at the bank, and the tellers were asked if they could identify the robber.

After a few more minutes, I was released, and the police, while not apologizing to me, courteously asked if I needed a ride back to where they had picked me up. I thanked them and declined---it was not that far to walk, and I was a little leery of police cars by then!  

This story is by way of introducing a video which, as an attorney, I think is worthy of everyone's attention. If you were ever stopped and interrogated by the police, you might think that, as a God-fearing and upright Christian with nothing to hide, that you could simply tell the truth to the police and they would let you go. Let me assure you that things have greatly changed in the law enforcement world since I was fifteen years old, and that while that may have once been true, it is unfortunately no longer the case. Now get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, settle in, and listen to Professor of Law James Duane explain to you why you should never talk to the police by yourself. Although the video is nearly half an hour in length, it flies by because the good Professor does not, shall we say, waste time in between words:

(Here is a link, if you wish, to the original on YouTube where you can watch it on a larger screen. The second half is also there, as well.) 

The video ends, as you have seen, with his introducing a real live policeman who has interrogated hundreds and hundreds of suspects. In a somewhat shorter, but equally informative, talk, he gives details of the tricks that police (legally) use to get evidence out of interrogations:

I hope now you see the truth in the title of this piece. (Hat-tip: The Anglican Firearms Enthusiast.)

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