📆 May 17, 2023 | ⏱️ 3 minutes read

Re: [Video] Don't Talk to the Police

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and none of this is legal advice.

A couple years back I promoted a talk given by American law professor at Regent University School of Law and former criminal defense attorney James Duane. His advice was basically to never talk to the police, especially if you’re innocent.

I now find myself disagreeing with defense attorney James Duane and the reason I disagree with him is because I think he possesses some biases which color his opinion. For one, as a former defense attorney, I think he’s used to helping people who are already accused of a crime. The best advice for them is just what he says: shut up and lawyer up if you can afford it. But for normal everyday situations where you’re not under suspicion of a serious crime, I don’t think it’s always the best advice.

I was once pulled over by a cop after turning the wrong way down a one-way street. He asked me “Do you know why I pulled you over?” If I would’ve told the cop “I don’t talk to police without a lawyer.” then I definitely would’ve gotten that ticket and, knowing that corrupt county, he probably would’ve done everything in his power to make my life hell. The cop never asked for my license and registration. It was clear he was tending to some other business and not really interested in giving me a ticket. So I just admitted to making a wrong turn and he let me go.

By all means, if you can afford the ticket and aren’t afraid of potential police brutality then exercise your rights. We need as many people as possible exercising their rights. I really hate to say it but there are situations where, especially if you’re poor or black, exercising your rights can be impractical and dangerous. I am neither poor nor black but I’ve still had negative interactions with the police.

I once had a police officer yell at me, handcuff me behind my back, and threaten a misdemeanor charge for refusing to give him my phone number. During this whole encounter, I was completely calm and respectful. I was not legally required to give him a phone number under those circumstances and he couldn’t have possibly charged me with a misdemeanor for refusing that.

When you’re dealing with cops like this who escalate situations, trick you, threaten you with imaginary charges, and either break the law themselves or just don’t know it, your rights aren’t always going to protect you. What Duane says in the video is great in theory, but in actual practice you’re probably not going to have evidence that you were mistreated and the judge is going to believe the person with the badge over you.

It’s easy for privileged white guys like Duane and I to tell people “Always comply with what the police tell you. Never resist. If they violate your rights, fight it in court later.” and I think that’s generally good advice. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to deviate from that as a policy, but if you don’t believe there are circumstances that call for deviating, I think you’re just naïve.

Most of us have probably heard of the tragic death of Eric Garner, a man the police choked to death over (allegedly) selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner stated 11 times that he couldn’t breathe, but the officer kept his knee on Garner’s neck anyways. What was Garner supposed to do in that situation? Just let the police murder him?

I think the best course of action when interacting with police is almost always to comply, assert your rights whenever possible, and rarely to resist. Ultimately though it depends on context and individual circumstances and one has to use their best judgment.