Really, seriously, just shut the fuck up.

The weekly scenario:

  1. Potential client calls and explains cops/FBI/IRS/etc. are asking to interview him. He's not sure if he is in trouble. We discuss how we could help, what our strategy for dealing with the situation would be, our rates, etc. Potential client decides to think about it. We tell potential client, "Whatever you do, don't talk to the cops/FBI/IRS/etc. until you have hired somebody, even if it isn't us."
  2. Potential client calls back a week later, asking to hire us. He says he talked to the cops/FBI/IRS/etc. I plunge pencil into back of hand to keep from screaming at him.
  3. Most of the time, client says something to the effect of "Well, I told them some things, but not others," or "I didn't admit xyz."

OK, my advice is the same as Chris Rock's in that "How not to get beaten up by the cops" routine: SHUT THE FUCK UP. Really.

  1. The cops do not have your best interests at heart. Really. Even if you are just a witness, they will be happy if you blurt out something that incriminates you, or seems to incriminate you.
  2. With all respect, you probably suck at answering questions. You have not been trained yet to recognize the tactics cops use to put you ill at ease during an interview. You are probably nervous. You are probably going to be answering questions off of the top of your heard. If you have decided not to take my advice to SHUT UP, you are probably eager to please and will strain to answer questions, even if it means guessing at things you don't know or don't remember. Especially if the questions are complicated — for instance, about a financial transaction — you need to go over the details and any physical evidence to remember exactly what happened. So even if you are trying to be completely honest, if you go into this interview without careful preparation, there is an excellent chance that you will get a key fact wrong through bad memory or nerves. Later, if you remember the right answer, the cops will say you are "changing your story around."
  3. And if you aren't ready to tell the 100% unvarnished truth, God help you. Look: there are only two courses of action to take when the government asks you questions. Either tell the 100% complete truth or SHUT UP. Nothing in between. You may think you are terribly clever and can shade the truth, spin the truth, rely on cute hidden definitions to answer questions, etc. Cut that shit out. They've seen it a thousands time before. Now you've given a misleading statement that's going to be used to show consciousness of guilt, you've locked yourself into a version of events, and you've exposed yourself to prosecution. There was a time when the feds only very rarely prosecuted people for saying "I didn't do it" during an interview. Those days are past. Now, even though it is a chickenshit charge, feds routinely charge people both with the underlying offense and with false statement to the government for when the client lies to them in the interview. SHUT UP SHUT UP.
  4. Yes, you might make the government happier by cooperating. Yes, you may reduce the chances of getting charged. You can still do that after a competent lawyer debriefs you, evaluates your risks, trains you on how to act in an interview, and communicates with the government about your status. A lawyer may be able to get you an immunity guarantee for the interview. If the cops you are dealing with are inclined to shaft you for lawyering up, then they are the sort who would have shafted you one way or the other sooner or later anyway. The cops who are trying to convince you that things will go badly for you if you don't talk right now DO NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART. They are trying to frighten you into talking without caring whether it is in your best interests.

Really, just SHUT UP.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Justin says

    On the show "Homicide", there was a great episode where the documentary filmmaker is interviewing all the cops, and Pembleton says something like "you see what it says on the door? 'HOMICIDE'. We're not here to help you. We're here to put you away for something."

    On that note, it's a bit surprising that, after twenty years of Law and Order and CSI, people aren't more saavy about being questioned by the police. It seems painfully obvious that they'll use a variety of tricks to get an incriminating statement out of you. My favourite episodes are the ones where the cops go wrong by their own devices and screw someone innocent–those should be required viewing in civics classes.