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Verbal diarrhea from suspects even afflicts seasoned police, and gets a $10 million bond

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Then-police detective Stephanie Lazarus sticks a billion feet in her mouth.

Jon Katz urges suspects to assert their rights to remain silent and to refuse searches.

On my blog, on the podium, and person-to-person, I do my best to spread the word for people to remain silent when they are police suspects and always to refuse searches. They either do not understand their rights at the moment of truth, intentionally disregard them, or get discombobulated. Suspects who fully understand but disregard their rights to remain silent and to refuse searches often tell me that they did not want to get the police upset at them. However, getting them upset (particularly when they are being thespians about it, which they often do)  is a whole lot more preferable than going through the angst of prosecution, the expense of a criminal defense lawyer, liberty loss of pretrial caging, and the sting of a potential conviction and sentence.

Some suspects apparently think they can talk their way out of further suspicion, arrests, and searches or can narrow their exposure in criminal court. Good luck, unless letting a qualified criminal defense lawyer attempt that. Some suspects probably worry about how it will look to a jury to know that s/he refused to speak or to be searched; the cops do not have to advise suspects that their silence and refusal to allow searches generally cannot be used against them, do not need to advise of the right to remain silent before a suspect is in custody or otherwise no longer free to leave, and never need to advise of the right to refuse a search.

Even seasoned police can violate my years-long advice to remain silent when a suspect. Witness the recently released pathetic flood of verbal diarrhea from seasoned police detective Stephanie Lazarus over an unsolved 1986 murder of the wife of her ex-boyfriend. Not only did Lazarus wag her tongue, but she first denied even having known the victim and then fessed up that she did. Where is Lazarus now? Languishing in jail on a $10 million bond pending a spring 2011 trial. Last week, Lazarus’s trial judge allowed the verbal diarrhea transcript into evidence at her upcoming trial. Ouch, to the trillionth degree!

Perhaps Ms. Lazarus wagged her tongue in a desperately failed attempt to save her job in the high-unemployment recession. Certainly, police officers face job security risks when they do not answer questions about their behavior with a suspect. However, case law exists to keep out such questioning from a criminal trial where the questioning is mandatory as a condition of employment, and even those circumstances call for consulting first with a qualified lawyer. Ms. Lazarus’s interrogation did not fit into that mold. She should have shut up and obtained a lawyer pronto.

The only solution to this sad state of affairs of criminal suspects’ verbal diarrhea is for us verbally and unceasingly to hammer into people’s heads not to do that by recounting such horror stories as Stephanie Lazurus’s, getting them Know Your Rights sheets, showing how police often walk away for good when suspects assert their rights, and underlining that such problems do not exclusively happen to “other people.”

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS every time, without exception.

ADDENDUM– Thanks to a listserv member for posing an article and video on the Stephanie Lazarus story.