If the Cops Ask Me To Meet With Them, Should I? Jussie Smollett Investigation Provides Cautionary Lessons
One of the many questions to arise from the current situation involving whether or not actor Jussie Smollett’s assault was a hoax or not is what to do if the police or law enforcement wish to speak to you.
If you are a witness to a crime or a suspect, law enforcement will want to speak to you. It is important for officers to meet with witnesses and obtain their statements, referring to their accounts of the alleged incident. This helps law enforcement find other witnesses, determine the identity of the suspect, and generally aids them in their investigation. If you are a witness to a crime, it is within your rights to insist on having a lawyer present when you speak to law enforcement about what you saw or heard, even if you do not believe you engaged in any wrongful conduct and were a mere bystander.
If you are suspected of criminal conduct, law enforcement will wish to speak to you because they will be focused on obtaining a confession or admission. An example of a confession would be, “I was the one that shot the clerk at the bank.” An example of an admission would be, “I was at the bank when the clerk was shot.” A so-called innocent bystander may very well also say they were at the bank when the clerk was shot, but that statement takes on a very different meaning when the person saying it is suspected to have committed the crime.
If you believe you are a suspect and that law enforcement wish to speak with you, you have several options.
First, you can ignore them completely. This will likely result in law enforcement questioning your friends and family about where you are, obtaining a warrant for your arrest, and showing up at your home or work.
Second, you can go speak to them and tell them your side of the story. This is not a good idea if you are a suspect.
Third, you can hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will then function as a shield between you and law enforcement. This attorney will explain your options to you and advise you on whether it is best to speak to law enforcement or to assert your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present for questions. Only in very rare situations is it beneficial and advisable for a criminal suspect to speak with law enforcement, and this should certainly never be done without an attorney. In most cases, a criminal defense attorney will advise you not to speak to law enforcement while the attorney coordinates with them, getting as much information as possible and advising you as to the next steps.
It is important to note that having an attorney on board will not prevent you from being charged with a crime. Law enforcement can still obtain an arrest warrant and execute it, and then the individual goes from being a suspect to being a criminal defendant. Also, hiring an attorney does not mean that you are guilty.
It is crucial to have an experienced criminal defense attorney, like the ones at Wigell Law Group, Ltd., at your side while navigating a stressful situation like being suspected of a crime.
In Jussie Smollett’s case, media reports stated that he was suspected of lying about his assault and that law enforcement wished to speak to him again. He hired an attorney, and while the attorney initially stated that they would visit Chicago Police to discuss the incident, reports on Monday, February 18, 2019, stated that the attorney informed the media that Mr. Smollett would not be making a statement.
If it is true that the attack was fabricated, Mr. Smollett could be charged with a crime. On the state level, he could be charged with Disorderly Conduct for filing a false police report (720 ILCS 5/26-1(A)(4), a class 4 felony; Obstruction of Justice (720 ILCS 5/31-4(a)(1)), a class 4 felony; Conspiracy (720 ILCS 5/8-2), a class 4 felony when coupled with disorderly conduct and obstruction; and/or Solicitation (720 ILCS 5/8-1(a)), for soliciting two individuals to stage an attack in furtherance of filing a false report, a class A misdemeanor.
If the federal government asserts its jurisdiction and Smollett is charged federally, he could be looking at charges of Making False Statements to a federal investigator (18 U.S.C. § 1001); Obstruction of Criminal Investigations (18 U.S.C. § 1510 (a)); and/or Interference with Certain Protective Functions (18 U.S.C. 118).
These are very serious charges that Mr. Smollett faces should law enforcement determine that the attack was a hoax. Criminal defendants in his situation of being subject to questioning by law enforcement would do well to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney and invoke their 5th and 6th amendment rights.
Beware and be aware.
(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NAACP )