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Constitution Day Explores Fifth Amendment: Should You Talk to the Police?

Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and the right to due process: Regent University School of Law (LAW), Roberson School of Government (RSG) and College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) explored the Fifth Amendment promised to citizens in the United States Constitution on Monday, September 18.

Each year, Regent celebrates the nationwide observance of “Constitution Day,” a day commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.

To commemorate this year, LAW professor James Duane and Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell presented their perspectives on “Finding Common Ground for Criminal Justice: Exploring the Fifth Amendment.”

Duane spelled out his perspective on the Fifth Amendment from his recently published book that explores cases in which innocent parties have self-incriminated in criminal cases due to a lack of proper “lawyering up” before talking to police.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent: What Police Officers Tell Their Children About the Fifth Amendment spurred from his viral video “Don’t Talk to Cops.” It currently sits in the best-selling spot in Amazon’s Civil Rights Law category.

The book title, ironically, speaks for itself.

“Innocent people don’t talk. Innocent people keep their mouths shut,” said Duane.

Since the popularity of the video, Duane has had the opportunity to speak with thousands of college students from across the country on the matter. To each of them he implores, “Don’t talk to cops,” warning that his book is full of cases where non-guilty individuals have served jail time by volunteering seemingly innocent information under the impression that they’re being helpful.

The stars align. The jury deliberates. And innocent people serve jail time.

However, for Bell, these cases aren’t the result of speaking with the police, but of the failure of a prosecutor to do their job.

Bell said that when individuals refuse to speak to the police, there is an assumption – right or wrong – that they have something to hide.

“If you ever scream out, ‘I didn’t have anything to hide, I just didn’t feel like talking to the police because I don’t trust the police,’ do you think we’re going to trust you? Talk to me,” said Bell. “I don’t know you, you don’t know me. You want us to give you the benefit of the doubt and trust that what you say is accurate and true, but you’re not going to give us the same benefit of the doubt? It’s a two-way street.”

Offering police information can, in his opinion, only help matters, because of the “discretions” afforded to him by his position.

“I have the unbridled discretion to charge. I have the unbridled discretion to amend. I have the unbridled discretion to amend a charge – up or down. I have the unbridled discretion to drop charges,” said Bell.

Though he admits that every situation may not be right, and that innocent people are in prison, the prosecutors “hold all the cards.”

Their task is simple in theory: make sure that individuals who commit crimes are accountable for their behavior – their motivation lying in making a safer community for their constituents.

“We are the gateway keepers and when it’s all said and done, it falls on us to do the right thing,” said Bell. “We have a higher calling when it comes to being a prosecutor. We can’t afford to get it wrong. We can’t.”