Blog Posts


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:

  1. 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: 

 

 Andre M. Grant

Andre M. Grant

 Larry Brown Jr.

Larry Brown Jr.

 Chris Tolbert

Chris Tolbert

 Stephen LeBrocq

Stephen LeBrocq

 Bruce Mosbacher

Bruce Mosbacher

 Andre J. Smith

Andre J. Smith

 Aubrey Ward

Aubrey Ward

 Corey M. Smith

Corey M. Smith

 Stephanie Kemen

Stephanie Kemen

 Shaun Rai Whitney

Shaun Rai Whitney

 Marcus R. Salone

Marcus R. Salone

 Andrea D. Bonds

Andrea D. Bonds

 Tony Thedford

Tony Thedford

 Mayo Wilson

Mayo Wilson

 Brent Hawkins

Brent Hawkins

 Randolph Stone

Randolph Stone

 Otis Dominique

Otis Dominique

 Brendan Shiller

Brendan Shiller

 Alger Boswell

Alger Boswell

 Heather Pinckney

Heather Pinckney

 Deon Browning

Deon Browning

 Ken Fletcher

Ken Fletcher

 David Kelly

David Kelly

 Dante Pride

Dante Pride

 Jacqueline Moss-Oglesby

Jacqueline Moss-Oglesby

 Michanna Talley Tate

Michanna Talley Tate

 Carmella Penn

Carmella Penn

 Jayne Ingles

Jayne Ingles

 Stephen Berrios

Stephen Berrios

 Camille Hicks

Camille Hicks

 Courtney Fauntleroy

Courtney Fauntleroy

 Ashley Shambley

Ashley Shambley

 Dena Singer

Dena Singer

 Brittany Kimble

Brittany Kimble

 Anthony R. Burch

Anthony R. Burch