Sometimes, law enforcement officers engage in clever maneuvers to get suspects to talk and provide information that incriminates them. There are certain ways to avoid falling into these traps. One is to make sure that you avoid making a statement to — or in the presence of — an officer without having first consulted an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer and, two, whenever possible, to get those potentially incriminating statements suppressed.
The crux, of course, is that the statements you make without counsel can be highly damaging. Consider the assault case of S.B., who led police on a high-speed chase through two counties.
After officers disabled the man’s vehicle with spike sticks, they attempted to arrest him. However, the man successfully fought off officers for several minutes before they, aided by a Talbot County sheriff’s K-9 unit, finally subdued and arrested him.
Afterward, S.B. complained of shortness of breath, so EMTs transported him to a nearby hospital. Inside the back of the ambulance was S.B., an EMT and, per Talbot County Sheriff’s Office procedure, a deputy.
During the ride, the EMT asked S.B. many questions, ostensibly to “build some rapport with the patient,” according to the EMT’s testimony. In addition to quizzing S.B. about his medical history and preexisting conditions, the EMT posed questions like “what’s going on with the police?” He also asked how S.B. came to get tased and bitten by a police dog.
“I guess I should not have went for that weapon,” S.B. told the EMT.
The prosecution, of course, sought to use that statement at S.B.’s trial and, unfortunately for the defendant, succeeded. Eventually, the jury found him guilty. S.B. appealed, but he was not successful.
So, what should one make of S.B.’s failure to keep out the statement? There are two major things. One, always be very cautious about speaking to anyone about your situation if you’re in the presence of a law enforcement officer. While a police detective generally can’t ask you questions about your potentially criminal conduct without first giving you a proper Miranda warning, a doctor, nurse, or EMT possibly can. If an officer is close enough to hear what you told that medical provider, they’re potentially entitled to testify about what they heard.
Two, if you have answered questions and provided information that’s potentially harmful to your defense, there are still possible options to get the evidence thrown out. Specifically, you have to argue and show that the person who questioned you was acting as what the law calls an “agent of the State.” To do that, you have to establish that the person who questioned you “was working in collusion with the police at the time of the search, or otherwise acted as an instrument of the State in the performance of his duties.”
Evidence that can help might include things like the police officer’s directing, influencing, or otherwise inserting him/herself in the question-and-answer process, or proof that the questions the non-officer asked had no purpose other than to get you to make incriminating statements. S.B. didn’t have any of that, which was why his arguments — and his defense — failed.
There are lots of possible traps that exist for people suspected of crimes. One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to refuse to answer any questions about your incident until you have consulted and retained counsel. For those under investigation or suspected of criminal activity, the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help, striving to ensure that all our clients’ rights are fully protected throughout the process. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form today.