Imagine you have been accused of committing a crime. It could be a minor offense (relatively speaking) or a serious crime. As a suspect in the case, South Carolina police would likely bring you in for questioning. Now here’s the question: what would you do?
Would you answer every question the interrogators throw at you? Or would you immediately request for an attorney to be present (or, at the very least, a phone call to get a lawyer)?
Let’s transform this hypothetical situation into reality. A man in Wisconsin was accused of sexually assaulting a girl. He was asked to voluntarily come in for questioning. He obliged, and without a lawyer present, the interrogators asked him every question they could. They molded their argument in exactly the right way, presented the evidence in a commanding light and, in the end, the man confessed to the crime.
The fact that he did not have a lawyer was problematic enough for the suspect-turned-convict. But making matters worse, the man says he was coerced into his confession. He claims the police overstated the evidence against him, that they failed to read him his rights and that they implied he would not be able to contact a lawyer if he left the interrogation room. He appealed his conviction — and lost.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court said the officer’s tactics — which were legal at the time and are acceptable in many places across the country — did not surpass the man’s ability to resist them.
This just highlights the need for a lawyer immediately after anyone is accused of a crime. Shows like “Law & Order” like to frame interrogation room scenes in a way that makes them tolerable, as if the defendant just needs to be honest with the police and the good officers will stand by the suspect, rewarding their good deed with a reduced sentence or no charges at all.
That is not the way things work. Even if someone is not guilty of a crime, speaking to the police without a lawyer present can land them in trouble.
Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, “In Criminal Case, Supreme Court Upholds Confession Despite Alleged Police Coercion,” Joe Forward, Jan. 9, 2013
- Please visit our South Carolina sex crimes defense page to learn more about a defendant’s rights.