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For the zillionth time, silence is golden with the police

Oct 26, 2009 For the zillionth time, silence is golden with the police

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.) 

Do you have a burning desire to talk to the police, even though doing so with real cops might get you arrested and prosecuted? If so, go watch Cops and talk to the television screen instead.

For a decade, my website has had this top ten list for dealing with the police, including keeping one’s mouth shut except to identify oneself. Staggering is the frequency with which people act against such advice — which has been around for decades before I became a lawyer — even with many people who already know and understand the advice.

Enter Jerome H. Jones. The police arrived one Saturday night when a large crowd was gathered in a "suspected high crime area." A cop approached Jones, who had a large white styrofoam cup and a brown paper bag with something inside. Instead of staying silent, Jones volunteered (at least the cops say he volunteered) “I ain’t doing nothing. I’m just drinking.” The D.C. Circuit confirmed that Jones’s foregoing statement converted the situation from insufficient grounds to stop, frisk or arrest Jones to sufficient grounds to make a Terry stop to investigate further. Jones v. U.S., ___ F.3d ___ (D.C. Cir., Oct. 23, 2009).

In response to Jones’s voluntary statement of doing nothing wrong, the cop told him to "Come here." Instead, Jones pushed the cop in the chest and reached for his waistband. The cops wrestled him to the ground, and found a handgun in the waistband.

Had Jones kept his mouth shut, he would not have the police assault and handgun conviction that he got. But he talked, and the goldenness of silence was converted to the bitter pill of talking. Jon Katz

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