Editor’s note: Eboni K. Williams is a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst based in Los Angeles. She has worked as a public defender, private trial lawyer and also provides commentary on legal and political issues from a pop culture perspective. You can follow her on Twitter @Eboni_K.
(CNN) — In a few terrible seconds, teen star Justin Bieber made his attorney Roy Black’s job a heck of a lot harder.
Bieber, who was arrested in Miami Beach on Thursday for drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license, decided it would be a good idea to spill his guts to the Miami Beach Police Department.
According to Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez, during his arrest, Bieber “made some statements that he had consumed some alcohol, and that he had been smoking marijuana and consumed some prescription medication,” before getting behind the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini.
On the surface, this could look like Bieber was just being an honest guy, admitting to his wrongdoings. But look a little further, and you’ll see a young man who has done the worst possible thing a defendant in any case could do. He opened his mouth. And in doing that, he’s also doing the state’s job for them.
Justin Bieber should have just shut up.
The great thing about the American justice system is that it is based on an adversarial process that requires the state to actually PROVE your guilt with evidence.
Guess whose job it is to gather that evidence? That’s right, it’s the job of the state — in this case, the state of Florida.
The defendant is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The defendant — nor his attorney — doesn’t have to prove a thing. The defense attorney only needs to raise reasonable doubt to the state’s version of the story.
Where Bieber went wrong was voluntarily handing over evidence of his own guilt by admitting to criminal behavior, and therefore assisting in handing the prosecutor a conviction on a silver platter.
The moment Bieber was placed under arrest, he was read those words that we hear on every procedural cop drama on television: “You have the right to remain silent.”
All Bieber had to do was shut his mouth. Such a simple concept.
It makes no sense why more defendants don’t use this precious liberty. Contrary to popular belief, keeping your lips sealed is not an indication of guilt. It’s just plain smart.
It gives your defense lawyer a much greater chance of success, because his client isn’t participating in his own prosecution. When you are fighting the state and their plentiful resources of investigators, detectives, crime labs and prosecutors, the last thing a defense lawyer needs is his own client working against him.
Roy Black is NOT happy with his client right now.
Defending a client against an impaired driving charge is no easy task. The public interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road is understandably great. No one wants to see our society in harm’s way because of irresponsible drivers.
However, the integrity of our justice system requires that every defendant get an opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined according to the evidence against him.
By making statements against his own interests, Bieber actually helps to undermine the whole process. His lawyer’s job is not to get him “off.” Black’s task is to hold the state accountable to its burden of providing evidence — beyond a reasonable doubt — that Bieber is in fact guilty of the crimes charged against him.
By failing to perform the simple task of remaining silent, Bieber has done the exact thing Miranda rights are designed to prevent — he has incriminated himself.
Unlike instances where outside evidence can be refuted by the defense as speculative or circumstantial, self-incrimination is incredibly tough to refute because the defendant himself provided it. Unless you want to attack the credibility of your own client, the defense lawyer is in an awful position. Sure, defense lawyers can try to suppress the statements, but without facts to support coercion, this can also be a tall order.
The right to remain silent is a gift from our Constitution (from the Fifth Amendment, to be exact).
So if you are ever in as an unfortunate situation as Bieber found himself in early Thursday morning, listen to the police officer’s instructions, cooperate fully, call your attorney — and keep your mouth shut.
Remember, you have that right.