What to Do When You’re Questioned by Law Enforcement Officers in Florida

PoliceThere are a lot of things anyone should understand when being questioned by the police. First and foremost, when the police are asking you questions, they’re often not there to help you; they’re seeking to obtain information that will help secure an arrest in a criminal matter. That’s not intended as an insult to those who wear the uniform, but it’s just a statement of fact –- that it is the job of the police to investigate potential crimes and, when appropriate, make arrests. Thus, unless the officer who approached you did so because your car has a flat tire on a busy highway, the chances are that the “helpful” officer talking to you is actually trying to get useful information relevant to a case on which they are working.

Also, be aware that whatever you say is likely to be regarded with suspicion by an officer, even if they give no outward signs of that or even appear empathetic. As the main protagonist of a popular TV show set in Florida once opined, “spies spend their lives telling lies, [while] cops spend their careers listening to them.” All that is to say that, when you find yourself being questioned by law enforcement officers, your first instinct should be to protect yourself legally, and that means getting a lawyer. A recent Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling in a South Florida case provides a useful example of this.

Paul was a man whose infant son had suffered injuries. One day, he voluntarily went to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to speak to a detective there about the incident. The detective, before asking the father anything, advised the man of his Miranda rights. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. The man said he understood his rights several times and continued speaking. At that juncture, the interaction was not “custodial” (meaning that the man was not in police custody), so the detective was not legally obligated to issue a Miranda warning at that early stage.

The longer the conversation, which went on for several hours, progressed, the more things changed. Eventually, after hours of questions and statements, the detective had enough to arrest that father for the child’s injuries.

In the father’s criminal trial, he argued that the potentially incriminating statements he made should be excluded from his trial. He contended that, although the detective issued a Miranda warning at the outset of the conversation, the law requires officers to issue a Miranda warning at the point at which an interaction begins to be a custodial one. Since the detective in this case didn’t issue that warning at the moment when the conversation went from non-custodial to custodial, the statements weren’t admissible, he contended.

The courts did not accept this defense argument. The appeals court explained that the “point of Miranda warnings is to allow a defendant to make an intelligent and knowing waiver of his right to counsel before speaking with the police.” In other words, if a defendant receives a Miranda warning and knowingly and intelligently waives his rights before an interaction with police becomes custodial, that waiver still remains valid and in effect if that same interaction with police later becomes custodial in nature. The police aren’t required to give you a Miranda warning twice in the same conversation.

What should you make of this? One key thing to take away is that, whenever it comes to a matter that is criminal or potentially criminal, you are usually better off with legal counsel than without it. Additionally, there is definitely (as this situation demonstrates) such a thing as waiting too long to ask for an attorney. There is, however, almost never such a thing as retaining a lawyer too soon. Always err on the side of protecting yourself or your loved ones. Retain counsel first. The diligent and determined Tampa Bay violent crime attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been helping people accused of, or questioned about, crimes defend their rights for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and the reliable assistance you need.

More blog posts:

When Even a Small Flaw in the State’s Case Can Overturn a Conviction in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Nov. 23, 2016

What you need to know about your Pinellas criminal charge, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, June 15, 2012

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