The Cops Show You a Picture of Yourself

This happens every day, so let's deal with it.

The police come to your house or a detective calls you into the police station, and they show you a photo.  It's a photo of you, but you're not doing anything bad, just walking down the street, let's say.

The police officer asks you, "Is this you?"

You should respond, "I'm not answering any questions without a lawyer present."

Yes, even though that photo doesn't show anything bad and maybe the officer says something like "We just need to clear possible suspects," or "As soon as we know if this is you, we can exclude you as a suspect."  But, you should know by now that the police are allowed to lie to a suspect during their investigation.

So, what happens if you say "Yeah, that's me," thinking that it can't possibly hurt you to admit to being the guy in the photo doing something totally innocent, like standing on the sidewalk?  Let's be clear, the police didn't ask the question for no reason.  They asked because there is some way to incriminate you with that photo.

Perhaps you're wearing the same distinctive hat they recovered from the crime scene.  Or, more likely, the photo is actually a still shot from a video that shows you leaving the scene of the crime or committing the crime.

Over and over, I tell this to my clients.  "The police says they have a video of the robbery, and they showed you a photo from it and you admitted that was you."  And over and over, my clients say "That wasn't a video of the robbery, it was just a picture of me.  There was no robbery in that picture."

But that's the point.  The police don't show you the photo of you actually committing the crime.  Then you would never admit it was you, and that would not make their job any easier.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that I killed someone.  I walked right up to a woman on the street and stabbed her in the back.  I dropped the knife and walked off.  If the detective showed me a photo of me stabbing the woman in the back and said "Is that you?"  I would say, "No, of course not!"  Because I'm at least that smart.  But if the detective showed me a photo of myself two minutes earlier, or two minutes later, when I'm just walking down the street, no knife in my hand, I might say "Yeah, that's me. Why?"

I'm placed under arrest and they don't have to show me the video.  They can save the video for trial and say "Here's the photo Ms. Justice admitted was her.  And here's where we got that photo from." Then the prosecutor could play the video that shows me stabbing the woman and walking away, and pause it at the spot that they printed and say "And is that the same scene you printed and Ms. Justice admitted was her?"  The detective would say "Yes it is."  And they have just proven my identity.

That's not to say I don't have some other defense.  Maybe there's a self-defense argument or a causation argument.  But, if I didn't have the knife on me when the police arrested me, and the police didn't find my clothes with the victim's blood on them, maybe my lawyer would have an easier time arguing, "That could be any female with blonde hair! That could even be a man in a blonde wig!" Now that argument is gone, and my lawyer better be able to come up with something else.

So, that's my advice: When the police show you a picture and say "Is that you?" do the same thing you should do when the police ask you any question.  Say, "I'm not answering any questions without a lawyer present."  And then keep your mouth shut.

15 comments:

  1. Excellent advice.

    And welcome back.

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  2. I like this post. I definitely learned something from this. I didn't have encounters such as these with the force yet. But this is definitely something that I will remember. Just in case.

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  3. In the UK not answering police questions is likely to get you in deeper water if you end up in court - especially if they caution you first.

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    1. I don't believe that's true. Not answering when questioned "may harm your defense", but saying that you will answer when a lawyer is present is different from saying you won't ever answer.

      IANAL

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  4. Excellent advice, thanks for that. Not that it would ever happen (hopefully) but it's good to know ' just in case! '

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  5. I had to learn this the hardway. It is best to have a healthy distrust of any question ask by the police and never goto the police station for questioning with out a lawyer at your side even if you do not intend to answer their questions.

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  6. Your comment "they don't have to show me the video" makes me take pause. Aren't individuals accused of criminal behavior entitled to be confronted with the evidence? Doesn't the Sixth Amendment entitle them to see the video?

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    1. Individuals are only entitled to be confronted with the evidence at trial. Before the trial nobody has to tell you nothing.

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    2. all evidence must be shared with your attorney

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    3. it's called "full disclosure"

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    4. What the police do to "solve" a case and what the Prosecution must do to "prove" the case are two completely different things with distinct standards.

      Police must have "probable cause" to arrest a person for a crime.

      The Prosecution must prove a case "Beyond Reasonable Doubt".

      The 6th amendment applies to trials and not law enforcement investigations.

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    5. What the police do to "solve" a case and what the Prosecution must do to "prove" the case to a trier of fact/law are two completely different things with distinct standards.

      Police must have "probable cause" to arrest a person for a crime.

      The Prosecution must prove a case "Beyond Reasonable Doubt".

      The 6th amendment applies to trials and not law enforcement investigations.

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  7. Yes, the police can lie. And there is good cop bad cop. So anything you hear in such a situation should be disowned.

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  8. This is great advice with a great example too. Explaining it in detail, like you have, will really help the layperson understand the severity of the situation.

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  9. Police and prosecutors must disclose exculpatory and impeachment evidence, but in Texas there is not full disclosure. I believe there should be. We don't allow trial by ambush in civil cases...why do so in criminal cases where so much more is ar stake?

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