Why you should always invoke the Fifth Amendment in dealing with the police

Most middle-class, law-abiding people think of the police as being on their side, protecting them from criminals. Hence if a police officer should, for any reason, request to talk to us about a crime or request a search of our car, home, or person, we would likely consent, thinking that it must be due to some misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up and would likely be a good story to tell one’s friends later.

It turns out that this is not a good idea and that you should never voluntarily consent to talk to the police or agree to a search.

See this video by law professor and former defense attorney James Duane on why he will never talk to the police under any circumstances nor advise his clients to do so. It does not matter if you are completely innocent and completely truthful. [Update: The response by the police chief at the end says that Duane is right, and also talks about the tricks they use to get people to talk.]

This was one of those rare cases where my mind was immediately changed simply by hearing an opposing argument.


  1. slc1 says

    If we carry this to its logical conclusion, one should never report a crime because that would require talking to the police.

  2. thewhollynone says

    I taught civics and US history for years in high school, and I always advised my students to say nothing except, “I want my parents and my lawyer.” I think that 90% of LE are good guys, but the other 10% can really cause you some trouble.

  3. Matthew says

    I watched watched this video a long time ago and really enjoyed it. I recommend watching part 2 which is the second half of this lecture. It is given by Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department and he confirms everything Professor Duane says.

  4. machintelligence says

    By all means click on the link to part 2 and hear the officer agree completely.

  5. Mano Singham says

    There is a difference between the situations where you initiate the interaction with the police with where the police do the initiating.

  6. James Power says

    As long as you also never expect the police to solve a crime you’ve reported to them this is a win win situation for all the criminals. I mean, all the citizens… no wait, I was right first time.

  7. oldebabe says

    What an interesting, educational, and useful presentation. Free advice from a lawyer! Even entertaining, in a negative sort of way.

    And good to know (and to say `no’)…

  8. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Watch the video again and this time pay attention to what he says about innocent suspects.

  9. amhovgaard says

    Unfortunately, those 90 % (a very optimistic estimate, I think) will support the 10 % no matter what they do.

  10. baal says

    Also remember to walk away slowly (if outdoors). If you are seen to be hurrying, that’s enough cause to change the nature of a stop.

  11. mnb0 says

    That difference might not be conclusive. My father was murdered a few years ago (google Klaas Nieuweboer) and I was the one to provide the Surinamese criminal investigation team with decisive information. Yes, they asked me a few questions in case I was a suspect. Had I not cooperated the killer might have not been captured or it might have taken much longer with him having lots of time to escape.
    Then again, Suriname is not the USA.
    I also remember a Dutch case against an IRA-terrorist. He was trained not to say anything but his name, despite several hours of psychological pressure. It was incredibly hard to convict him.
    It obviously is a difficult subject. The police in any country for this reason should do its utmost best to gain the trust of the general public.

  12. Richard Stover says

    Cops are people, just like us, and as with people, there are always bad apples in every group, so don’t condemn them all for something a few did.

  13. says

    It’s not about whether or not they’re people– it’s about what power they have to wield. Did you watch the video? Even a good cop doing his best to do good things can make mistakes, and the best way to make sure this isn’t the case is to never talk to the cops. Ask for a lawyer.

  14. Scott says

    The problem I see is that this can turn a “What are you doing?” situation that you could talk your way out of into an arrest. I have talked my way out of a couple of situations where I am sure I would have gotten arrested had I remained silent.

  15. James Power says

    I was making a general comment. Where is that in the video? I don’t have half an hour to kill.

    And also, how do you propose Police solve crime without the assistance of the communities they work in?

  16. Jared A says

    I think that the video is talking about when you are approached by the police in connection with a crime investigation. That is different than what you seem to be talking about, where a patrolling officer notices is checking to see if a crime is in progress.

  17. markdowd says

    They can start by not being tricky, deceiving assholes like in the second part of the video.

    A couple of the “interview” (read: interrogation) methods Officer Bruch described left me wondering “How the fuck is that allowed!”

    Tricking the suspect into writing an apology letter, and treating that as an honest confession? Why can that not be suppressed on the grounds that it was not obtained in good faith and was not given with full knowledge and intent of what it meant?

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