A guy in a suit knocks on your door. He flashes a badge and wants to ask you a few questions about your involvement at your company. Or with your stock broker. Or with your neighbor.
What do you say?
“My attorney will be in contact with you.”
Come on. Really? That seems defensive. Won’t that immediately make the authorities suspicious of you?
Really. “My attorney will be in contact with you.”
Seriously? That’s the country we live in today? What if I can help?
Seriously. “My attorney will be in contact with you.”
(Note: this is different than remaining silent, which can be used against you later. Refusing to answer until you consult an attorney cannot.)
The first problem with opening your mouth is that you are not qualified to know whether you are innocent of wrongdoing under federal criminal law. Criminal law is so expansive now that even experienced lawyers, hell even cops, can’t possibly know what is and what isn’t legal anymore. And if you don’t know the law, you can’t know that something that flies out of your mouth won’t come back to bite you in the ass.
Problems number two and three are credibility. Say you cooperate. You answer basic questions about your whereabouts, or what you said to somebody, or when you did something. Whatever you’re asked about was probably a while ago, so you probably screw up some very minor details. Guess what, if the investigator’s done their homework, those flaws are now a reason for suspicion. But even if you nail every tiny detail, well, isn’t that convenient? It sure is suspicious that you can recall everything with such exacting precision…
Even if we don’t assume any police malevolence, credibility is still a problem. Agent Jones interviews you and remembers you saying you were at your sister’s house that night. You actually said you were at your mother’s house, which is what you tell the interviewer when they call you back down to the station. Now you’ve given conflicting testimony, even though the testimony was identical in both interviews. But, it’s your credibility against the Agent’s. Who’s the court going to believe (hint: the Agent’s, every single time). This problem is completely avoided if you have a third person, your lawyer, sitting next to you the whole time.
Ya, this sucks. If the neighbor kid goes missing, your first instinct should be to want to help by providing information. But, understand the risks. Most of the time, they are small. Most totally innocent people try and help out and nothing happens to them. But enough totally innocent people get destroyed by the system, even if they are completely cleared of any wrongdoing in the end, that these risks are pretty serious. The list of reasons to have a lawyer sitting next to you goes on and on. Psychology is one of the more interesting, but there are countless, more immediate concerns as well. See here for a great article on the subject, and below for an excellent, and terrifying, talk.