“Anything you say can or will be used against you.”
How many times have we all heard these words when someone is arrested on a TV show? It’s almost become a cliché.
As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that many people who are arrested don’t fully appreciate that, in the context of talking after you have been arrested, anything really does mean anything. Even the most innocuous-sounding language can come back and hurt a person who has been arrested.
A recent example involving a celebrity illustrates the point.
On April 6, Amanda Bynes, who starred in the Nickleodeon show, “All That,” and later appeared in the film version of the musical “Hairspray,” was arrested in West Hollywood for hitting the corner of a sheriff’s vehicle with her BMW. Approximately seven weeks later, she was charged with driving under the influence and for refusing to take a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol test.
After finding out that she is facing these charges, Byrne sent out the following message via Twitter to President Obama and her more than 250,000 followers:
“Hey @BarackObama… I don’t drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don’t hit and run. The end.”
Some of you might be thinking: “What’s the big deal?” It’s not as if she admitted to something or said something incriminating. True. The most important reason for not talking to the police or making a public statement relating to charges is that people can and often say something that directly implicates their guilt. It’s shockingly common for people to admit to committing a crime (or what they think is a crime) or to provide information that either corroborates some other incriminating evidence, or provides the basis for cross-examination at trial. Here, Ms. Bynes stated that she doesn’t drink, thereby indirectly affirming her innocence. Her statement could have been worse.
But for several reasons she still would have been better off keeping quiet. First, being charged with DUI hardly makes someone appear likeable. Contacting the President and asking him to fire a local police officer isn’t a great popularity move either. Should this case ever go to trial, prosecutors have an incentive to try to get the tweet admitted into evidence.
Second, the message on Twitter generated much more media attention than the original arrest or the decision to press DUI and related charges. When news of the tweet spread, so did the picture of the mug shot. This isn’t the kind of attention that most people, even celebrities, need. It’s also possible that this kind of media attention may subtly bias the pool of potential jurors.
Third, and most importantly, the press attention may make it much harder for the prosecutors to accept a plea deal. They may be more motivated than they otherwise would have been to try Ms. Bynes. Although it’s premature to tell, it’s certainly plausible to believe that the ill-advised tweet could actually increase the punishment Ms. Bynes ultimately receives for allegedly hitting a sheriff’s patrol car back in April.
Admittedly, a certain amount of speculation is involved when determining how a certain public disclosure impacts how a particular case will be defended. Nonetheless, if you are arrested, the safest course of action is to stay quiet and let an experienced criminal defense lawyer do the talking for you.