Russell Hebets May 21, 2012

The results of a joint project between the University of Michigan and Northwestern Law schools are shedding some light into the nature of false convictions in the US. In this study it was found that 15% of all false convictions happen because of things that are said while answering police questions.

There are many reasons that a number of false convictions are based upon police questioning. The main reason is that innocent people believe that talking to police is the quickest and fastest way to clear their name. As the report indicates, police often interpret things as a confession or very differently than the way the defendant meant them. There are two reasons for this which have been discussed here before. First, if the police are interviewing you as a potential suspect they probably already have some type of evidence or witness statement to support their questioning. In many cases the police only ever bring in one suspect for interrogation, because they do a lot of the investigating prior to that stage. So, if the police are interrogating you, you are probably the only suspect in their minds, which means they are very unlikely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

The second reason is the closely related phenomenon of confirmation bias. Simply put confirmation bias means that people generally only pay attention to evidence that supports their pre-existing beliefs. So, when the police view you as a suspect they will tend to piece together only the parts of your statements that make you seem guilty. This fact is just human nature.

So the question is, “How do you deal with the police if you might be a suspect?” When you first become a suspect you should call a defense attorney immediately. All attorneys agree this is the best time you can contact someone. You should politely decline to speak or make any statement to the police, and request an attorney to be present. The police may keep pressing you and you should continue to politely decline. Over the years numerous clients in this exact situation have called us at this stage in the investigation and taken this same advice. In many instances the police cannot find evidence for charges, because they rely so much on interrogation, and in the situations where they already had enough evidence the client’s potential case was still much stronger.