Hello, criminal. Yes, I know you did a bad thing. And yes, I know you really like to talk about it. I just wish you’d talk with your lawyer once in a while before blurting all the details of your life and crimes to the first cop you see.
Actually, I don’t wish that at all. Criminals who completely disregard their right to remain silent — and that’s a solid 90 percent of them, in my estimation — make for some fantastic police affidavits. Instead of sitting smug and silent in that little cubicle, with the mirrored wall and ominous camera eye, they start rattling on about the very bad deed that brought them there.
It’s all on the record that way. It goes in the police report and eventually makes it to the courthouse, where a reporter can get his grubby hands on it. Here, in the affidavit, the vivacious eloquence of the criminal mind is on grand display.
“Sure, I beat him with that stick,” said one murder suspect and Mensa candidate, when questioned about the bludgeoning death of a local man. “But I didn’t hit him near as hard as the other guy did.”
Bzzzzzt! The correct answer here, to at least prolong the assumption of innocence, would have been: “I wish to exercise my right to remain silent, sir. Also, I would like a Fresca, if you have one.”
The Fresca is optional. Usually, it’s a smoke they want. I’ve seen video of interrogations where a suspect in a heinous crime downright begs for a cigarette. Way to show off your weakness, Joe Camel. As soon as the cop indicates you might get a chance to smoke as a reward for cooperation, out come the details:
“I murdered her and chopped her up in my Slap Chop. You will find the remains buried in my garden, next to the Topsy Turvy tomato plant. Could you make it a light cigarette? I’m trying to quit.”
You rarely see the right to remain silent embraced by the fidgeting dude on the other side of the interrogation table. It astounds me because anybody over the age of 5 should have seen a few hundred episodes of “Law & Order,” “CSI” or “The Shield.” Hell, even a “Dragnet” rerun is a good primer on the right to silence.
“Make it easy on yourself, Lou,” the grizzled detective will advise. “Tell us what happened and we’ll go easy on you, see? We’ll tell the judge you cooperated and he’ll probably sentence you to a nice weekend at a resort. Would you like that, Lou? Nice weekend at a resort?”
The bad guy wants to believe. And so there he goes, telling the nodding cops how he and a buddy beat two men with a baseball bat and buried them next to the railroad tracks with a shovel bought at Walmart. Wanna see my receipt? Let me have a smoke and I’ll show it to you.
These people make for quick work in the courtroom. They also make lazy reporters look like they’ve been working really hard. All the details are regurgitated into the affidavit and all we have to do is rewrite the thing because cops don’t tend to write so good.
I mean well. They don’t write so well.
There was a fellow just last week accused of keeping child porn on his computer. This one was so defiant about discarding his constitutional rights, he actually called police after they had left his home. Wanted to tell them where they might find more evidence against him.
Polite, honest and — from a legal defense view, anyway — god-awful stupid.
The right to remain silent came about after the 1963 robbery arrest of Ernesto Arturo Miranda, a Los Angeles laborer. Days after he was busted for the stickup, he confessed to the unrelated rape of an 18-year-old woman two days earlier. Apparently, Mr. Miranda didn’t know he was not legally required to yammer on about his complete history of vileness. And so three years later, the Supreme Court decided that criminals should be advised that they don’t have to talk, because apparently, not all criminals are Rhodes scholars.
Behold, the Miranda rights, a string of advice just about anybody can recite but one that has been uttered so many times, most have forgotten what it means.
Cop: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
Dumbass: “This means I have to confess, right? I tell you, I may have hit him with that stick, but I didn’t hit him as hard as the other guy did.”
I live for the day I get hauled downtown for questioning. I know my rights and how to use them. None of those bullying tactics for me. I’m seasoned, brother. I’m street.
Cop: “We know you jaywalked, LaFlamme. We have witnesses that can put you on the corner of Park Street and then on the other side of Ash just seconds later.”
Me: “You got nothing on me, coppa. I wish to exercise my right to remain silent, see?”
Cop: “You sure about that? Because there’s a nice fat cigarette waiting for you just outside this door.”
Me: “I did it. I was well outside the crosswalk and I traversed Park Street at a diagonal. Is it a full-flavor cigarette? I need full flavor.”
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can remain silent and still confess your evil-doings at firstname.lastname@example.org.