(The following is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer and don’t play one on the Internet. It is common-sense advice.)

Dear readers, if you never pay attention to anything else I write: please pay attention to this: NEVER talk to police (including all levels of law enforcement) without a lawyer present, or at the very least having your ACLU Know Your Rights booklet (free download, available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi) with you and knowing what it says.

You have to be reasonably polite to the police. In many venues, you have to tell them your name. If you are driving, you probably have to show them your license, cab card/registration, and insurance. You do NOT have to answer their questions.

When they are investigating a crime, or think they are, the police are not your friends. This can be to some extent true even if you are the obvious victim, but is absolute in other cases.

Many police are decent, honest, and competent. Some are none of the above. Almost all of them have some tendency to go for the obvious answer and the obvious suspect–and one can hardly blame them, because most of the time that is the answer and the doer. But perhaps worst of all for innocent people are police who are lazy and/or burned out, because they will take the easy way. Too often the obvious way or the easy way leads right to an innocent person who thinks their innocence will protect them.

It won’t. Too many people think, I’m innocent, so I don’t need a lawyer. I’ve heard people say that so-and-so MUST be guilty because they hired a lawyer. No. You need a lawyer BECAUSE you’re innocent. And if it’s the police who try to pull that “You don’t need a lawyer if you didn’t do anything” line on you, the only acceptable response–if you feel you must respond, and really you shouldn’t!–is “I need a lawyer BECAUSE I didn’t do anything.”

Many people are in jail or prison, some on death row–some have even been put to death–who were innocent of the crime they were convicted of. This is not arguable; it is a fact. Your innocence will not protect you. And if you DID do something, your ignorance will not protect you from being charged unfairly and being convicted of something you DIDN’T do.

So go right now to the ACLU website, download the booklet Know Your Rights, and print it. Then read it. Keep a copy in your car. Give your kids a copy, and if they’re too young to understand the booklet, teach them “I want to have my parents here.” Just do it.