According to a 2013 study published in the journal Crime and Delinquency, by age 18, 30% of black males, 26% of Hispanic males, and 22% of white males have been arrested. By age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested. According to the Department of Justice, in 2008, approximately one in every 31 adults in the United States was behind bars, or being monitored (probation and parole). In 2008 the breakdown for adults under correctional control was as follows: one out of 18 men, one in 89 women, one in 11 African-Americans, one in 27 Latinos, and one in 45 Caucasians.
Statistically speaking, the odds of you coming face to face with the criminal justice system are high, especially if you’re a man of color. Chances are that if you’ve been arrested, the odds have already been stacked against you. Once you’ve been arrested, that stack grows exponentially.
There are things that every person, especially those who are more likely to get caught up in the system, need to know. From the time we’re little kids, we’re told to look both ways before crossing, not to talk to strangers, to brush our teeth before we go to bed, and to stay out of trouble. The fact is that we all get into trouble, some people more so than others. Sometimes when we get into trouble, we get caught. Then what do we do?
In my experience working as a criminal defense investigator, I’ve learned some things. There are so many ways a person can make their situation worse than it already is after being arrested. And the worse they make their situation, the more difficult it becomes for me to do anything that can help.
Below are some little morsels of knowledge I’d like to share with you, in case you ever find yourself in the back of a police car.
“YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT”
This is the single most important thing to remember if you’re ever being questioned by the police. Even if you haven’t been arrested yet and the police are telling you they just want to ask you some questions, take advantage of that right. As soon as a police officer starts asking you questions, you need to ask to speak with a lawyer. I don’t care if you’re innocent or not. You should never answer questions without a lawyer present.
THE POLICE ARE ALLOWED TO LIE TO YOU
There are numerous tactics the police will use to get you to talk to them. No matter what they say, keep requesting to speak with an attorney. The officers might tell you that you’re not under arrest, so you don’t need an attorney. That you’re not even a suspect. They may tell you that you don’t need a lawyer if you’re really innocent. They might say that they know you only had a small role in the crime and that you’re not the main person they’re after. They might tell you that if you cooperate, you won’t get in trouble for your involvement in the crime. They might tell you that one of your friends is in the next room and that whoever talks first could avoid jail time. They may say that your friend already talked to them and told them you were involved, but that they want to hear your side of the story before reaching any conclusions. They might say they have eyewitnesses or forensic evidence that places you at the scene. They might say that the judge will be more lenient if you confess. Guess what? The police are allowed to lie to you. They can tell you they found your DNA all over a crime scene and that they have three eyewitnesses who place you there and that your friends have all said you did it. Just because they say something doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, chances are that they’re making stuff up just so they can scare you into making a confession. You should never, ever confess to a crime you did or did not commit. To avoid being tricked into a situation where you might end up confessing, just keep asking to speak with an attorney. After every sentence or question that comes out of the officer’s mouth, you need to say, “I’d like to speak with an attorney.”
This, of course, leads me to my next point.
KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT
Congratulations, you survived a police interrogation by constantly asking for an attorney to be present. The police got no information out of you. Great work! It’s not over yet though.
If you get arrested, you will be sent to jail. Do not, under any circumstances, talk about your case with anybody in jail. I don’t care if that person is your brother or your best friend. Jails are full of snitches and snitches come in all shapes and sizes. Even if your brother or best friend isn’t a snitch, the guy standing around the corner from him might be. Anything anybody hears you say can and will be used against you.
You should function under the assumption that everyone in the jail is wearing a wire and that all the phones have been tapped. Because guess what? That assumption might actually be true. Yes, they can do that.
Jail conversations aren’t the only things that can come back to bite you in the ass. Conversations you have in your daily life can also screw you over in the future. If you do commit a crime, do not talk about it. Don’t talk about it to your best friend. Don’t talk about it to the guy you committed the crime with. Don’t talk about it to your girlfriend or to your wife or to your baby mama. And please don’t talk about it over the phone. I don’t care how much you trust the people in your life. The second you open up to them about what you did, they become involved and then they can get in serious trouble for keeping your secret. These conversations alone can hurt you during your trial and at sentencing. You do not want to be portrayed to a jury as the kind of person who brags about committing crimes.
If you have any talk of illegal activity or gang involvement, including photographs of such things, on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page, delete it immediately. All of this information is available to the police and the prosecutor and I guarantee that it will be used against you. If there’s a photograph of you with some buddies holding weapons or flashing gang signs on your Facebook page, the prosecution will argue that you must have committed the crime because you’re clearly a gang member and that because you’re a gang member, the crime you committed was for the benefit of the gang. This is where things get really bad. Now what was a simple carjacking case is now a gang case. With that gang enhancement, you’re now facing a life sentence instead of three years.
I understand the need to look tough. But you need to be smart about your tough look.
WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE DOES MATTER
I love tattoos. I even have a few myself. I am by no means against tattoos. However, some tattoos are really bad ideas. I had a client who, while he was serving time, got a demonic skull tattooed on his head. His case is now on appeal. If he is granted a hearing, he will be in the courtroom with the judge, with witnesses, and possibly even with jurors if he’s eventually re-tried. He’s reached an age where his hair no longer grows on the top of his head. There is no hiding the fact that Satan is tattooed on his entire scalp. What do you think the people deciding his fate are going to think when they get a look at him?
If you’re going to get a tattoo, please be sure it can be covered up. Try to avoid getting inked anywhere above your shoulders or on your hands. It’s bad enough that the prosecution is going to call in some hack “expert” to talk about how all the tattoos you have already indicate that you’re a gang member, a Satanist, a pothead, or a pervert. If the judge and jury can’t easily see your tattoos, then they might judge you less harshly because they’ve decided that someday you could be a contributing member of society. A guy with a tattoo of Satan on his head isn’t getting hired by anyone, anywhere, ever.
What you’ve just read is by no means an exhaustive list of the things you should keep in mind if or when you are arrested. None of it is meant to be taken as legal advice. These are just things that I have encountered too often in my professional career. Many of these things may seem like common sense. You’d be surprised how uncommon common sense can be sometimes.