Don’t Talk to the Police

 Posted by on 26 June 2008 at 12:00 am  Epistemology, Law
Jun 262008

Here is a fascinating 30-minute lecture by Regent University law professor James Duane about the 5th amendment. He is speaking to law students, explaining why he uniformly advises his clients (and everyone) that they should they never, ever, under any circumstances, talk with the police — guilty or innocent, a suspect or not, even if they are smarter than Aristotle and Newton combined, articulate as all get out, an expert in the law, and pure as the wind-driven snow. Never.

He explains how talking to the police can’t ever help, and will in all likelihood hurt even innocents. This last is the part that really stood out: even the most innocuous statements by the most innocent of people could put them in jeopardy — it depends on context they don’t control. An officer misremembering an answer could bring a conviction; so could misremembering the question. Taping interviews is no guarantee, either: even some fuzziness in the contextual information that floated by before the interview could be disastrous!

His examples are striking. “I don’t know who killed Joe. Of course I didn’t shoot him: I don’t even own a gun — heck, I haven’t ever touched a gun in my life!” Suppose that’s all perfectly true. What could possibly be incriminating about sharing that? Well, just consider an officer on the stand responding with “I never mentioned anything about a gun.” Toast.

But wait, there’s more! It isn’t just you or officers who might make a mistake that hangs you, but anybody with whom the police might come in contact. (See the video. Oh, and here is the second half with the other fellow.)

Quite an argument for improved epistemological hygiene in our legal system — and for very careful engagement with it. While exercising 5th amendment rights is widely associated with guilt, Duane explains that it wasn’t designed for that — it is for protecting innocent people in epistemologically perilous circumstances.

[HT: Jason]

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