The recent indictment of a lawyer illustrates why attorneys advise their clients to politely tell the police you invoke your right to remain silent and only want to speak with your attorney. In March, The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced that a Grand Jury had indicted several individuals allegedly involved with accounting fraud. One of those individuals is Zachary Warren, a Georgetown Law grad who clerks for a Federal Judge. For my purposes, Mr. Warren’s alleged criminal conduct is unimportant. His conduct within the framework of the Government’s investigation, however, serves as a perfect example as why “Pleading the Fifth” and hiring a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney is in your best interest.
In this case, Mr. Warren was contacted about his involvement with an old employer. It appears that he felt he had not committed any wrong doing, so he voluntarily talked to government officials. As the investigation continued, he later met with representatives of various governmental agencies. Thinking he was only a mere witness and not a subject or target of the investigation, Mr. Warren apparently went to the interview without hiring an attorney. Ultimately, the interview did not play out as Mr. Warren had planned. It is unknown whether the investigators always intended to charge him or formed the intent to charge him after their meeting. Regardless of when their mind was made-up, clearly Mr. Warren failed to convince the investigators that he had not committed a crime and should not be charged. His own words and actions likely served as the basis for the belief that he had committed fraud. His body language, tone, demeanor, limited memory and statements all could have been considered as indicators of lying, evasiveness and guilt. Those same words and actions likely will serve as some of the most powerful evidence in the case against him.
Mr. Warren’s case illustrates why you should never speak with the police or governmental officials investigating any type of wrong doing without first speaking with your attorney. Obviously, Mr. Warren is intelligent, educated and well-versed in the law. He has knowledge of the legal system and players involved. He knew his rights and thought he had nothing to fear. He was either extremely naive or simply thought he would talk his way out of the problem. Either way, he is now paying the price. Whether he is innocent or guilty of the criminal charges, the mere allegations have deeply impacted his life. He may never successfully overcome that impact. Respectfully, I submit that he should have taken a different approach when the government officials reached out to him. He should have politely declined to speak with the investigators until he had a chance to speak with his attorney. He should have talked to his attorney and, only after fully discussing all the facts and circumstances of the events, should he have considered talking about the situation. Ultimately, I suspect, had he followed this advice, he never would have spoken to the investigators unless he had been granted full immunity from prosecution. Whether or not this would have allowed him to avoid charges, I do not know. I do know, however, that the prosecution would lack all the information gathered during that meeting, a likely better scenario for Mr. Warren.
Our legal system provides a protection against self-incrimination. The police understand and respect your right to remain silent. Sure, the police have a job to do. They are told to investigate crime; to gather all of the evidence. If you were involved in the alleged activity, they will want to speak to you. They want to acquire any valuable information that you could provide. They may consider you a witness. They may consider you a potential offender. Their opinion may change as their investigation develops. You are not privy to their investigation. They have no obligation to share their information with you. Your best interests are not necessary consistent with their job. You need to worry about your best interest. Even in the best case scenario, your words may be misheard, misunderstood, misconstrued, or simply erroneously reduced to writing. When errors occur, you suffer. To avoid the devastating consequences of having your own words used as a means to bring charges against you and more importantly, as a means to establish your guilt, do not speak to the police prior to speaking with your attorney.
Regardless of whether you are arrested at the scene of a crime, arrested later on or simply questioned about potential criminal conduct, politely refusing to answer police questions until you have spoken to your attorney is the smart choice. The chances are you will not be unsuccessful in “talking your way out of It.” Do yourself a favor and assert your right to remain silent and do not talk with the police until you have spoken with your attorney.