After 35 years of practicing law in the trenches of state and federal courts, I have narrowed my advice for all my clients down to one, simple, direct sentence: "Shut Up."
No kidding. Really. Just shut up.
Living in Florida, I have come to love deep-sea fishing. Enter my law office, and on my walls, above my desk, staring and glaring at my clients, is a stuffed, six-foot steel blue Marlin. Below the fish is a plaque that reads: "Behold the beautiful, majestic Marlin. He would not be here if he had not opened his mouth."
When you are a 7-year-old kid growing up, and your mom catches you with your hand in the cookie jar, you inevitably and sheepishly try to come with an excuse. Mom pushes and prods you to confess, and you do. She then hugs and kisses you, and you make up as she tells you everything is going to be all right.
It does not work that way with a cop when he pulls you over. The police are not your parents. The sheepish lie you first tell him becomes a prior inconsistent statement that is going to be used in a court of law against you. The cop does not hug you, kiss you, and make up. He searches you, arrests you, and locks you up. So what you should do is just shut up.
Do not bargain with cops, negotiate with cops, or promise deals you cannot deliver on. The promises they make on the street are not binding in the courts where prosecutors charge you. Deal with the reality that if you are caught with drugs you are now the prisoner of a drug war. In war, you are only required as a prisoner to give your name, rank, and dog tag number. Do not give consent to search your car, your person, or invite cops back to your home. Do a Nancy Reagan: just say no.
As my friend William Panzer says, an Oakland, California based criminal defense attorney, also on the NORML Board of Directors, "If everyone kept their mouth shut, half the people in jail would not be there. The cop's job is to put you in a cage and anything you say beyond identifying yourself helps them put you there." His advice too: "Shut up."
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