Day after day, clients ask Dave Z. and the rest of the Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake (SZL) crew, "Can the police really do that?" in reference to scenes from popular TV shows and movies. In the Pop-Culture Corner, Dave Z. will compare and contrast scenes from television shows and movies with the real life rules set out by the Constitution of our great country. First up is HBO's "The Wire."
Warning: "The Wire" often has scenes containing inappropriate language. Therefore, please be advised that the video clips occasionally attached for reference are probably not sufficient for viewing at work or by people under the age of 17.
In our third post of the "Can the Police Really Do That?" series, we will take a look at whether or not the police can negotiation deals in exchange for testimony or cooperation with an ongoing investigation.
"Well, maybe we can help you on this"
Continuing with our friend Cheese, since he wasn't emphatic enough in his demand for an attorney to stop the questioning, Bunk and McNulty continue to ask him about "Dawg" assuming he is one of the four men recently found dead and that Cheese is responsible for at least one of the deaths. After Cheese admits that he "lit him up" McNulty and Bunk try to elicit more information about what happened by telling Cheese "maybe we can help you on this" and "help us help you" with respect to the consequences associated with a murder. We ultimately find out Cheese killed his fighting dog, named Dawg and that a deal didn't make sense.
However, this is a situation that is portrayed time and again in police dramas. The police offer leniency for a suspect or witnesses cooperation and then the show goes on its merry way with the information gathered.
The question is can the police legally offer someone a deal or leniency in exchange for information?
The short answer is that the police can offer leniency and even recommend it to the state attorney in charge of the case but the agreement is not enforceable because police do not have the power to negotiate plea deals.
What should you do if you find yourself in this sort of situation? I would encourage you to assert your right to remain silent, request that the police call your attorney and then REMAIN silent until your attorney arrives. Once your attorney arrives, discuss the situation with him or her privately to determine whether or not a deal for your cooperation makes sense. If a deal makes sense, let your attorney do the negotiating, with the prosecuting attorney, not the police. You should only disclose the information after the deal has been approved and your attorney has instructed you to speak.
Do not assume the police can strike a deal with you or that it will be enforceable if they try and back out of the deal or change the terms. If you are arrested and interrogated, keep quiet until you can speak with your attorney. Your right to remain silent, not a potential deal, is the best tool you have in this situation.