Even though it might feel like it, criminal charges don’t come out of nowhere. Investigations start when there is a report of a crime from the victim. In the military, this report is often made to the victim’s chain of command or the service’s criminal investigative division (CID). It might, however, be made to civilian authorities who will pass the information on to the service CID. It’s important to note that the report of the crime could come well after the incident.
The service will begin an investigation in response to the report. The target of the investigation—the alleged perpetrator—typically will not know when this happens. The investigator will then gather up as much information about the crime as they can. This includes physical evidence and witness statements.
At this point, the suspect may start hear about the investigation as the investigator talks to the people he or she knows. Regardless, the ultimate goal of the initial investigation will be to get enough evidence to confront the alleged perpetrator at an “interview.” I put interview in quotes because it won’t really be really an interview–it will be an interrogation. The goal of the interrogation will be to get the suspect to confess.
If you are under investigation, then it’s very important you understand this. The investigator’s sole purpose when they “interview” you will be to get you to confess. They are not there to “hear your side of the story” and they are not unbiased. In order to get this confession they can and will lie to you. They might, for example, say that a witness videotaped you leaving the scene of the crime even though it is not true or they might say they have DNA evidence when they don’t. Unfortunately, these types of tactics are permitted.
Fortunately, the suspect has unequivocal rights under the Constitution: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. No doubt, you’ve heard of these rights. Exercise them.
If you are confronted by law enforcement you should clearly tell them: “I do not wish to make a statement, I want to talk to an attorney, and I want this interview to end.”
Many crimes cannot be proven or become very difficult to prove without a confession. Unfortunately, most defendants confess. But even if you’re innocent, talking in an interview can still cause problems. If law enforcement doesn’t believe you, you’ll still get charged with the crime and you’ll get an additional charge for making a “false official statement.”
Unfortunately, military defendants are not assigned military counsel until they are charged with an actual crime. This means that they often do make a confession. If you are in the military and under investigation or hear that you are under investigation, you should not make any statements and consider talking to an experienced attorney.