Statements to law enforcement are a routine part of many criminal investigations. The atmosphere in which a statement is taken is pretty grim. A suspect is placed in an interview room which, in itself, is an inherently coercive environment. These rooms are typically small and engender a sense of being cut off and isolated. Most statements are typically taken by at least two law enforcement officers, so the suspect being interviewed will naturally feel outnumbered. Requests by the suspect during the interview to seek advice from others, such as family members, are denied. In New Jersey, statements are typically recorded in video format. This was not always the case – video recordings became part of the interview procedure because of ongoing complaints concerning abusive tactics by officers conducting the questioning.
But it gets worse than this. Many people think that they can handle themselves in the interview room by simply explaining the underlying situation to the officers present without saying anything that will ultimately undermine their position in any resulting case, and that they will then be allowed to simply leave the facility without being arrested. Generally speaking, nothing can be further from the truth. The officers taking the statement are trained to elicit damaging information from the person being questioned. Further, they have probably already interviewed other people involved in the investigation such as purported victims, and know what they are looking for when it comes time to interview subjects or targets. Thus, alone in an unfamiliar environment, outnumbered, and confronted with officers who have been taught to obtain damaging admissions of wrongdoing and already know something about the underlying facts, many people bury themselves without even realizing it. As a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer, I confront these issues regularly.
A defendant’s statement to law enforcement almost always makes it more difficult to defend the case. The solution to the problems that statements create is simple. Don’t give a statement. A suspect in a criminal case does not have to answer questions from investigating officers, and should refuse to speak to the officers conducting the questioning. Although the suspect will almost certainly be arrested and charged, they have done nothing to strengthen the case against them by giving a statement.