From “Raw Law, An Urban Guide to Criminal Justice” by Don Diva Magazine’s Muhammad Ibn Bashir, Esq.
1. If you do not have a lawyer, do NOT answer any questions. This applies EVEN IF YOU ARE INNOCENT. The basic questions, such as, name, address, you are required to answer. Anything else is off limits. (And if your name and address are issues in your arrest, don’t even tell them that). If you don’t have a lawyer, you can request one. Once you request one, the questioning MUST stop. If it doesn’t, your rights are being violated and you know these people mean you no good. What often happens is the officer will say something like, “the public defender will be here in the morning, but I won’t, and right now I’m the only one who can help you.” He’s not on your side. Keep quiet.
2. If you have a lawyer, only answer questions in his/her presence. What good is it for you to have someone whose job it is to protect you, if you do not use him/her? You don’t enter a war without your weapons. Criminal justice is war. Only answer what the lawyer tells you to answer and you’ll be much better off.
3. If you are read your Miranda Rights and do not want to be questioned, write that on the form. I can’t tell you how many cases I have been involved with where the defendant/client says: “I told them I didn’t want to talk, but they kept asking questions so I just signed that form and they wrote down what they wanted.” The form came in as evidence that they agreed to be questioned (and the signature on a copy of the statement or confession didn’t help either). But what do you think would happen to that statement if the Miranda form had on it, “I don’t want to answer any questions,” next to your signature? You have a credibility call by a judge or jury that you can win.
4. If you are a juvenile (under 18-years-old) your parents should be notified before you are questioned. The obvious way police get around that is the “non-custodial” questioning we talked about earlier. Juveniles should ask for a parent and a lawyer. Parents, when you get that call, do not go down to the precinct with your self-righteousness. I don’t care how embarrassed you are, DO NOT allow that child to give a statement. One client’s mother explained to me, “All I told him was ‘just tell the truth.’” She believed the police when they told her that if Junior told them what happened, it would make things easier for him. She also believed that somehow Junior’s conduct was reflecting negatively on her as a mother. Junior did as mom ordered and admitted to punching a man who was eventually beaten up by the juvenile’s friends. During the beating, the man fell, hit his head on the curb and died. The statement was the only evidence the police had on 16-year-old Junior who is now doing 15 years in adult prison, 8 without parole.
5. If you are physically abused or emotionally distressed at the time you give a statement, let your lawyer know immediately. Don’t wait until the day of your trial to tell your team that the police didn’t play fair. Credibility is always an issue in court and the sooner you register a complaint, the more believable you are.
Raw Law, An Urban Guide to Criminal Justice is written from an intimate perspective and understanding of the legal and court system as it affects defendants and their families. No matter what walk of life you are from, whether you are the defendant who is alleged to have broken the law or someone charged with upholding it, Raw Law reveals the hypocrisies and realities that plague our legal system and society. You can’t afford not to read this book.