Monday, June 17, 2013

To Talk or Not to Talk -- That is the Question... The Lessons of My Cousin Vinny!

So, you get a call from a detective or representative of child services.  There has been a report that misdeeds have occurred between you and a child in your care, custody or control. You know you haven't done anything inappropriate. Should you just start speaking with them?  The normal human reaction would be to go and speak with the authorities. After all, that is how we are brought up -- let's explain things, take care of it, and move forward...

However, the legal system is tricky...  Taking the step to talk to authorities, whether the authorities be child services or the police, may not be the best route, especially if you are unrepresented and/or do not know what all has been alleged against you.  After all, you have no obligation to speak with any authoritative body, seeking to investigate you, thanks to the Constitution of the United States.  The Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and Sixth Amendment right to an attorney allow you to avoid talking to police or other authorities, with or without an attorney on your side. 

When you are in a situation wherein a spouse, close friend, or other family member has made allegations against you in regard to a child in your care, your emotional and mental state, understandably, will not be at their best. You should definitely speak with an attorney before taking any action with regard to cooperating in an investigation.  It is your right to seek counsel, and it does not mean you have done something wrong. Frequently, you will be told, by some authorities, that it looks bad if you "lawyer up;" however, the tricky thing that they won't tell you is, they can't mention this later, if any charges are filed.  They simply want to get information from you, which is their job.  Therefore, they have every reason to push to elicit information from you.  You also have every reason to protect yourself, mentally and emotionally, when an investigation is being conducted.


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While the Karate Kid (Ralph Macchio) was not involved in a child abuse/neglect situation in My Cousin Vinny, an excellent film, his experiences in that movie are instructive.  While the Sheriff in a small Alabama town was interrogating Ralph Macchio's character about murder and robbery at the Sac O Suds, Ralph Macchio's character believed he was being questioned about potential shoplifting, as his fellow New York buddy, Stan, forgot to pay for a can of food.  While this movie's hilarious antics and quirky lawyering by Cousin Vinny, Joe Pesci, were entertaining, the lessons are instructive.  When you are nervous and scared, and there are misunderstandings in interviews, your statements may be used against you in a disastrous manner.  The two "yoots" in My Cousin Vinny, were "lucky" to have Cousin Vinny as an attorney, as he was eventually able to push through the misunderstandings, investigate the case, and prove their innocence.  However, it would have been best for the case never to have gotten that far.

While My Cousin Vinny was a study in extremes, there are things, in reality, you may do that can cause damage to you.  Chief amongst these things are attempting to explain things away. By this, I mean, any human being, confronted with allegations of abuse or neglect to a child, will be affronted and eager to explain how things did not happen.  In explaining how things did not happen, you could appear defensive or you may offer information in an effort to provide context for the situation or allegations the child or an adult described. However, the very explanations or context you provide may be twisted or used against you.   Essentially, anything you say may be taken at more than face value.  When you are in a high stress situation, like a police or child services interview/interrogation, that will highly impact your life, any misunderstanding may lead to your own, innocent, words being used against you. 

Without caring, competent and effective counsel on your side, you should avoid navigating the waters of interrogation and interview.  After all, you do not want to have Ralph Macchio's misunderstanding, in My Cousin Vinny, and be speaking to an officer about something like shoplifting one can of food, when an officer is interrogating you about murder........

*Nothing written or stated in this blog is meant to be legal advice forming an attorney/client relationship.  The statements are the opinion of the blogger only.