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Police & You: The Right to Counsel

When it comes to the Police & You, many people are shocked to learn that the police may legally resort to a variety of seemingly underhanded tactics in order to obtain a confession from a suspect in a criminal case. For example, the police may flat-out lie to a suspect during questioning. Thus, the only sure way to protect your rights if you are questioned by the police is to clearly and unambiguously assert both your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney.

While the right to remain silent and the right to counsel are fundamental rights guaranteed to everyone by the United States Constitution, the existence of these rights do not automatically mean that the police will refrain from continued questioning. For example, just last month, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals decided a case where the police continued questioning, despite the suspects clear and unambiguous directive to the police to "give me an attorney".

So what does the Ninth Circuit ruling have to do with criminal cases here in Michigan? It raises an important point when evaluating the dynamic between the Police & You for anyone placed in custody must remember. Requesting an attorney is not an indication of guilt. Every person in police custody has the right to an attorney. This right must be stated clearly and explicitly so that there is no confusion on the part of any police officer interrogating a suspect. Equally important is the need for the request to be clear and unambiguous so that a court reviewing the police conduct does not have room for doubt as to whether the suspect requested counsel.

When a clear request for counsel has been made, police questioning should cease immediately or the police should ask to clarify if the suspect wants to speak with an attorney. Clear and unambiguous requests should be honored by police officers, but there may be times when they are not. If they are not, the individual should once again state clearly and concisely that a lawyer is wanted. The person should then refuse to respond to any further questioning.

Ambiguous requests for an attorney allow a police officer to continue questioning an individual. This can ultimately lead to an admission of guilt or evidence that leads to a conviction at trial. Experienced criminal defense attorneys know what should and should not be said to police officers. They can often be a suspect's best friend when dealing with a pressure-filled situation like an interrogation. A call to an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer should be any individual's first request if they find themselves being questioned by police.

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