A member of my family has been contacted by our local police about a matter they must think she has something to do with and they want to discuss it with her at the police station. Should she go?

If your family member is involved in a serious crime, she should hire legal counsel as soon as possible. While most people desire to cooperate with authorities in such matters, it is usually risky doing so prior to hiring an attorney. In many cases, the things that are said by a suspect to law enforcement officers prior to hiring an attorney constitute a basis to convict that suspect of a crime. Hire a lawyer first!

It is important to remember in this situation that the primary job of any local police force is to enforce the law. Part of this job involves solving crimes in order to bring those responsible to justice. If they want to speak with a member of your family, they want to acquire evidence to solve a crime or to support a criminal charge against someone (maybe even your family member) in court. While it may be that your family member had very little to do with the matter in question and the police simply desire to find out what she knows, it is risky allowing her to speak to the police about a crime without a professional present and retained to represent her interests. This is because a law enforcement officer has broad discretion as to how to memorialize what she says. Her statement may be taped or written out in her own words or her statement may be summarized by the investigator in his words. If the investigator summarizes the interview, he may have a bias or suspicion about your family member and slant his report against her accordingly. In a case where your family member is recorded or writes out a statement, remember that the investigator is trained to elicit the maximum amount of information from an interviewee through the questions posed. In the early stage of an investigation, no one is beyond suspicion, even if they are cooperative.

Most people find it shocking that police can use tricks and misrepresentations in order to scare or intimidate a suspect into divulging more information than they needed to. This is why it is wise to have an attorney present. These tricks won’t work on a professional.

In any event, anything and everything discussed or included in a report or statement can later be used as evidence in court against your family member. Also, her very demeanor, movements and nervousness can later be submitted as evidence of her possible involvement in the crime. Few things are as frightening as when the police turn a person’s cooperation against them in their zeal to solve crime. An attorney representing your family member at this stage will have input into the questioning process, will be able to clarify inquiries, and can avoid unnecessary incrimination.