The Magic Words Everyone Should Know

This blog may surprise some of you, it’s not about being polite or saying please and thank you, it’s about knowing when you are in over your head and you need a break.

My young boys were playing “good guys, bad guys” or “cops and robbers” about a year ago when my then six-year-old tackled and went to handcuff my then four-year-old. Isaiah (the 4 year old) responded by promptly yelling: “I want my attorney!” I could not have been more surprised and proud. At least they were listening.

Everyone should know the magic words. Here is what I have taught my children and what I think everyone should know: When you have been detained or arrested by the State (police) or a state agency (a school) and someone thinks you may have done something illegal, you must know that the only way to guarantee access to your parents or your attorney is through the magic words “I want to talk to my attorney.” You cannot say “I think I may need an attorney” or “shouldn’t I talk to an attorney” or “I want to call my mom or dad.” The only way that you are guaranteed to stop the interrogation and get counsel is through the magic words. Now, none of us wants to encourage criminal behavior or think that we may be faced with this situation, but it could happen, and it is best to be prepared.

Not long ago, we had a juvenile client (13) facing a suspension for some conduct on a bus. The school found out about the incident and the principal, vice principal and guidance counselor all questioned the student. He was then made to write a confession. School was done for the day so he was sent home and told he could finish the next day. The next day he continued writing the confession and the school handed the confession over to the police. His parents were never called, he was never informed that he had been arrested or that he had a right to counsel.

Were his rights violated? Not necessarily. But as a parent I certainly would have wanted to know if my child was being accused of a crime, interrogated, and made to write a confession. I would have wanted to know exactly what he was accused of and I would have wanted to talk with him about the situation and figure out how to handle it. This isn’t about avoiding warranted consequences for improper actions, it is about knowing your rights and protecting them.