I have been practicing criminal law for 24 years and have seen a wide variety of reactions by people who are being arrested. Some of these reactions are unwise but understandable. Others are self defeating to the point of being bizarre. No one plans to be arrested, but it might help to think just once about what you will do and not do if you ever hear the phrase “Put your hands behind you.” The simplest “to do” rule is to do what you are told. Simple, but somehow it often escapes someone who is either scared or intoxicated. More important to guarding your rights and interests are ten things you SHOULD NOT do:
1. Don’t try to convince the officer of your innocence. It’s useless. He or she only needs “probable cause” to believe you have committed a crime in order to arrest you. He does not decide your guilt and he actually doesn’t care if you are innocent or not. It is the job of the judge or jury to free you if he is wrong. If you feel that urge to convince him he’s made a mistake, remember the overwhelming probability that instead you will say at least one thing that will hurt your case, perhaps even fatally. It is smarter to save your defense for your lawyer!
2. Don’t run. It’s highly unlikely a suspect could outrun ten radio cars converging on a block in mere seconds. I saw a case where a passenger being driven home by a drunk friend bolted and ran. Why? It was the driver they wanted, and she needlessly risked injury in a forceful arrest. Even worse, the police might have suspected she ran because she had a gun, perhaps making them too quick to draw their own firearms. Most police will just arrest a runner, but there are some who will be mad they had to work so hard and injure the suspect unnecessarily.
3. Keep quiet. My hardest cases to defend are those where the suspect got very talkative. Incredibly, many will start babbling without the police having asked a single question. My most vivid memory of this problem was the armed robbery suspect who blurted to police: “How could the guy identify me? The robbers were wearing masks.” To which the police smiled and responded, “Oh? Were they?” Judges and juries will discount or ignore what a suspect says that helps him, but give great weight to anything that seems to hurt him. In 24 years of criminal practice, I could count on one hand the number of times a suspect was released because of what he told the police after they arrested him.
4. Don’t give permission to search anywhere. If they ask, it probably means they don’t believe they have the right to search and need your consent. If you are ordered to hand over your keys, state loudly “You do NOT have my permission to search.” If bystanders hear you, whatever the police find may be excluded from evidence later. This is also a good reason not to talk, even if it seems all is lost when they find something incriminating.