Poison Pen: Why Signing or Writing Anything Will Land You in Prison
September 13, 2018
“Man, I know my rights. I have the right to remain silent, so I didn’t say nothing! I just wrote it all down.”
*insert face palm here*
When someone is arrested, there is an intense urge to do whatever it takes to get out of there. Many people honestly believe that if they say, write, or sign what the cop is asking for they will simply get to go home. Instead, your own words will always be the most damning evidence the prosecution has against you.
Every police department handles written statements a little differently.
In the county where I practice, it’s rare for the arrestee to write his or her own statement. I’ve only seen two or three statements written in my own clients’ handwriting in over 18 years of practice. (It’s no wonder, in this age of texting and social media, fewer and fewer Americans can effectively express themselves in writing with proper grammar, spelling and syntax. Why would a cop risk having you write a statement that no one but you can make sense of?)
Instead, what I see most often is a statement written by the prosecutor, but signed by my client. Here, in and around Chicago, once the cops get you talking, then a prosecutor will show up at the police station or hospital to memorialize the statement in writing.
The State’s Attorney will:
ask if you know how to read and write the English language;
tell you, he or she is an attorney, but not your attorney;
ask if you have been treated well while in custody; have you been fed, allowed to use the restroom, and given something to drink;
write down what the you say, not verbatim, but in summary;
ask you to initial any errors they made while writing down your story;
have you sign the statement saying it is true; and
(possibly) have you sign a smiling picture of yourself, saying you were not mistreated in any way during questioning.
The purpose of this tactic is simple -- control. This method keeps you from going off on tangents that don’t matter to the investigation. It makes sure your statement is legible and makes sense, but is still written mostly in your own voice.
Most importantly, it gives the prosecution one of the best weapons in its arsenal -- a seasoned, credible lawyer who will testify against you in court.
Whether you put pen to paper yourself or the police or prosecutor does it on your behalf, here are three reasons, you just signed, sealed, and delivered your marching papers to the state prison:
You’re stuck with it. It’s hard to deny what’s in black and white, signed by you. You can tell the jury or judge you were naïve or scared or uninformed or high or drunk or you didn’t know what you were signing. You can say whatever you like after the fact, but there’s no getting around that question at trial, “Is this your signature at the bottom of this page, Sir?”
“Well, yeah, but…” is usually a pretty lousy answer.
2. You think you are helping yourself and you aren’t. Please stop trying to outwit the officer. You don’t know what he knows. You think you are throwing him off your scent, when in fact your scribbles may just give the officer details linking you to the crime, placing you at the crime scene or connecting you to the other offenders in the case, without realizing it.
3.You just became the prosecution’s STAR witness against you. Once you write a statement, a confession, an admission to anything, YOU just told on YOU. It no longer matters what holes the police or the prosecution may have had in their case. You just filled in the gaps by writing it all down.
Let me be clear. Do not say anything. Do not sign anything. Do not write anything, unless you write in all caps, “I WANT A LAWYER!”
Do traffic stops make you nervous?
Do you feel powerless?
Do you feel confused about what to do and what not to do?
What if you could get advice from not one, but an entire panel of attorneys? Well, I did just that. I contacted 35 criminal defense attorneys from 13 states and the District of Columbia and I posed one question to them:
“If you could give one piece of advice to someone pulled over for a traffic stop, what would it be?’
Here’s what some of the country’s most brilliant legal minds had to say:
Stop Tagging Me in Police Videos
So, it’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post, a lonnnnnngggg while.
The videos took off. I got busy writing the material for the boardgame and my blog writing fell to the wayside. Besides, my blog posts simply didn’t seem to be in demand.
Most people get their information in videos, tv, radio or podcasts, so I imagined lonely unread words sitting waiting for clicks that weren’t coming.
But, some topics just need to be written in black and white, to clear up any confusion, to make one’s stance crystal clear. So, here goes nothing. Let’s make it plain:
STOP TAGGING ME IN POLICE VIDEOS!
Woosah! Ahhhhhhh…insert sigh of relief. I already feel better. I think I actually felt my blood pressure go down some.
Now, sure, I could’ve simply changed my settings on Facebook to block people from tagging me, I suppose. I guess I could’ve responded to each individual who sent this terror via Messenger and asked them to knock it off. Instead, here I am making a public plea:
First of all, let’s be honest, these videos are traumatic. Whether a state trooper busted a motorist’s window and dragged him out of the car, whether an officer tasered a 80 year old grandma on her front lawn or a sheriff beat up mentally ill man or shot an unarmed teen, it’s all trauma, sadness, terror.
I am a firm believer that all Black and brown folks in America have PTSD from watching our brothers and sisters being dragged, beaten, tasered and shot on the news and on social media on a regular basis. Despite coming from strong stock that survived unimaginable horrors in our dark pasts, a person can only take so much before the despair and hopelessness becomes the norm.
So please, don’t get it twisted. I am not immune. I hear the most heartbreaking stories in court all day long, while simply waiting for my cases to get called. I watch videos of my clients being shot, tasered, getting run over by police cars (yes, I said being literally run over). I don’t need it in my inbox or posted to my page. Stop traumatizing me.
Second, to be frank, y’all ain’t gonna like what I have to say. Yup. Read that again. The ugly truth is, there’s a reason I don’t comment on 90% of police videos I see online.
People tag and share these videos with me asking for my advice, my commentary on what I see. I understand, but here’s where it gets sticky. Most of the time, what I see is different from what other folks see. I see the mistakes so many of my clients make that led to arrest, injury or both. I see the mistakes the officer AND the arrestee made. Yeah, I said it. Just because the cop was bogus af, doesn’t mean the person he pulled over didn’t clown too.
That last part is what most people don’t want to hear. Instead, folks will say I’m blaming the victim. Trolls will say I am excusing the cop’s actions. Nope. But, as I watch these videos, I cringe as I watch nearly everything I teach NOT to do unfold before my eyes. The arrestee:
RAN THEIR MOUTH
They don’t do the life-saving, arrest and conviction-reducing actions I advocate:
REQUEST A LAWYER
REFUSE ALL DUI TESTS
REFUSE CONSENT TO SEARCH
I know, I know. Breaking one of my so-called rules doesn’t warrant death at the hands of a rogue or trigger-happy cop. I’m not suggesting that it does. Rather, I’m saying that a cool head, a closed mouth and a plan will carry you far – hopefully, back to your front door step after every brief police encounter.
So, if you want to know my thoughts on police videos, traffic stops, searches, watch my videos. Play the game. Come to a free workshop. Share that! Tag someone in a post about that!
But, whatchu ain’t gon do, is traumatize me no mo’ on Facebook!