In a nutshell:
In the early part of November, Justin was driving home from school on the freeway. He dozed off, causing him to drive erratically (concerned drivers called the police at this point fearing he was drunk). He pulled off at the next exit to clear his brain. He went back onto the freeway. He reached for his cell phone, which has fallen to the floor when he had swerved before and while messing with phone, he drifts onto the shoulder, overcorrects and scrapes a guardrail.
Two police cruisers pull him over. They are yelling very nasty words. They put him in the back of the car and instruct him to write a statement. While he is writing, they search his car. They find a can of Dust-Off (compressed air used to clean small nooks and crannies, like the laptop that was also in Justin’s car). They take him out of the cruiser and perform a field sobriety test. Justin is able to do everything they ask—walk the line, hop on one foot, count, say his ABCs, etc. They demand to know if he inhaled the compressed air (if you do not what huffing is or the dangers involved, read this). He says no. He says he’s a substance abuse counselor and would never do that. One officer tells Justin that he’ll personally see to it that Justin never works as a counselor again. They tell Justin that they will let him go if he says he breathed it. Justin says he sprayed his vents out with it and probably inhaled some then. They then ask how someone even uses compressed air to get high. Being a substance abuse counselor, Justin knows the answer to this and explains it. The police take this as a confession. They put Justin back in the cruiser and make him write a new statement that coincides with his confession, which Justin does. They tell Justin they need to take him to the hospital and then he can go home, but they must arrest him first. They place handcuffs on him and take him to the hospital.
The police take a blood sample and a urine sample. He is booked on one charge of leaving the scene of an accident and one charge of driving under the influence. I come and bail him out of jail ($820). I finally figure out what is going on (imagine my surprise at getting a call asking me to bail out my dear husband). The next morning we retrieve his car from where it had been towed ($200), talk to Justin’s boss about the impact of this charge on his career, and find an attorney ($900).
This past Tuesday was Justin’s pretrial. Our attorney thought we had a pretty good shot of getting a deal since there was no real evidence of a DUI. He was pretty confident that it would be worked down to reckless or inattentive driving. No such luck. The prosecutor wouldn’t budge. We think the reason why is because the blood and urine test results are not back from the state lab yet. The prosecutor is probably certain that the tests will show evidence of alcohol or drugs. We will meet at another pretrial meeting in February and hope to make a deal then. Because Justin wasn’t Mirandized, his “confession” is inadmissible. We are providing proof from doctors that Justin suffers from sleep apnea and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which help explain his sleepiness and why he always keeps canned air with his laptop. If we don’t get a deal in February, we go to trial. Also, at this point, our attorney is now charging $125 an hour in addition to the flat fee we already paid. It’s been a costly mistake.
Now for the things we’ve learned:
- It is against the law to leave the scene of an accident. An accident doesn’t have to involve another vehicle or someone else’s property. If you do more than $300 worth of damage to your own car (even if you don’t hurt any other else’s property), it’s considered an accident. The law requires you to stay put, call the police, and report the accident.
- If you ever have a run-in with the police, the moment you feel that you are not free to leave, you are under arrest. In this situation, the first time Justin was placed in the back of the car was when he was arrested.
- Police do not need to read your Miranda rights or put handcuffs on you to arrest you.
- Police must read you your Miranda rights if they are going to ask you questions/interrogate you have been arrested. They can read you your rights at the scene of the arrest or later on at the station. But it must happen before they ask guilt-seeking questions.
- Police can ask you questions/interrogate you before they arrest you and use your statements against you. They do not need to recite your Miranda rights to do this.
- Whether or not the police tell you your rights, you have them. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. It’s easy to forget this in a frazzling situation, but you do not have to speak at all or write any statements whatsoever.
- The police have tricky, manipulative ways of getting you to waive your right to silence. Sometimes they just talk very conversationally without asking you questions, so you don’t realize your being interrogated and you don’t realize you’re waiving your right.
- At any time when you are talking with police and think better of it, you can stop talking and say you want an attorney.
- Police officers lie. They bully. They push. They threaten. They manipulate. They do what they have to in order to get what they want out of you. While you can argue the morality of it until you are blue in the face, there is nothing illegal about them misleading you, such as promising to let you go if you just do/say this.
- It is best to cooperate with police officers, but do so silently.
- A police officer may search your car, including the trunk, if there is probable cause.
- If police violate your civil liberties, they are not really accountable for it. (Justin’s civil liberties were violated because after arresting him they made him write his statements without reading his rights. This only means that his statements are thrown out as evidence.)
- If you uphold your right to remain silent, the police cannot threaten you or implicate that your silence is bad. A prosecutor cannot use this against you either.
- The worst thing people do in an encounter with the law is talk.
- The police have a right to identifying information such as your name, date of birth, and address.
- I’ll say this one more time because it will be hard to think straight if you’re ever in a similar situation: DON’T TALK! Don’t defend yourself, don’t explain yourself, don’t answer questions, don’t write anything down, don’t fill in the awkward silence—just don’t talk! If you must say something, just say, “I need to have my lawyer present before talking to you.”
- One more time for good measure: DON’T TALK!