When you are placed under arrest, you are trapped. You no longer have physical freedom. This experience is, at the least, unsettling. At the worst, it is terrifying. Try sitting still in a room without moving for thirty minutes, doing nothing. Then imagine you are under arrest, facing criminal charges, thinking about all the consequences of this. There is a long scientific record showing how difficult isolation is.
So, when a kind investigator gives people an opportunity to speak, many people jump at the chance. Police have advanced techniques, such as controlling the flow of information to a suspect, controlling the time, speed, and length of the interview in order to maximize the quality of the evidence they get. This all depends on a suspects desire to talk, however. You might think “I would never talk to the police.” But, this might change if you are anxious enough, or if you think “there’s no reason they won’t believe me.”
Most people feel confident that they can communicate information accurately, and they are used to not being questioned or disbelieved about the information they provide. Consider this line of questions:
Q. Tell me everything you did in the last hour.
A. Well, uh, I went home, watched some TV, read a magazine article.
45 Minutes Later
Q. So, what were you doing before I called you?
A. I was on my way home from the store, and…
Q. Wait, you were at the store?
Q. You told me you were at home.
A. I was. Then I went to the store.
Q. Ok, so now you went to the store.
One Hour Later
Q. What did you buy at the store?
A. Well I was online looking at my bank account and I remembered that I didn’t have any milk…
Q. Wait, wait, wait. You were on the internet? I thought you were watching TV and reading a magazine. Now you also had time to be online and go to the store.
A. Yeah. What’s the problem?
Q. The problem is that your story keeps changing. I’m starting to have a hard time believing you.
Looking at these questions and answers, you can see that ordinary conversation habits, where you think about something, blurt it out, remember something else, add it, remember something else, add it too, can be used to make you look dishonest. What if you make an even bigger mistake?
Be careful, if you are ever in a position where the police are speaking to you, about the answers you give. If you think for a moment that the police might be investigating you for possibly committing a crime, call a lawyer. Resist the urge to “help,” at least for a little while. With a lawyer’s help, you might still be able to assist the police without also endangering yourself.