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The Fifth Amendment

New -- 20 July 2011

Policeman, as a rule, have some very hard and fast priorities. One of their very top priorities, at all times and in all circumstances, is to ensure their continuing health (avoiding getting killed, for example), as well as their employment and/or progress toward a comfortable retirement. They may also, upon occasion, entertain somewhat more lofty goals, but as human beings (those law enforcement officers who qualify as such), they will for the most part be concerned, first and foremost, about their own survival (financial and otherwise).

Nothing wrong with that. It’s fundamental to the human condition.

But those people who are not gainfully employed in law enforcement, and who are in addition very likely to be contributing financially and politically to the training, equipping, arming, and deploying of police officers, do so in large part on the basis of these same police men and women providing some essential service(s) to the taxpayers in return.

One problem with this idyllic scenario is that most people/taxpayers do not encounter the police on a routine basis, except perhaps in allegations of traffic violations, where the police quickly become “them” and the rest of us end up as “us”. Sadly, it is an adversarial relationship from the outset, often leading to their word against ours... and with the judge or referee strongly disposed to siding with “them”. In point of fact the judge can be considered to be one of “them,” receiving his employment (wages and place of business) from the same source as the "officers of the court". Sigh.

So why would otherwise intelligent and frugal people (“us”) even put up with law enforcement officers? Well... for one thing: protection. All the squad cars inevitably claim as much: To Serve and to Protect. Clear as mud, right? Which is to say that people can be convinced to support the training, arming, equipping, and financing of police officers (aka The Gang in Blue) simply because these same police are protecting said taxpayers by, among other things, capturing criminals (including everyone from buglers to murderers), and providing the process and means whereby said criminals can be discouraged from repeat crimes... in particular, against “us.”

However... for the police in general to make a viable case for their continued employment, they must in their employment of protecting the taxpayers, demonstrate on a continuing basis that they are in fact able to detain, interview*, collect evidence, and assist in a very material manner, assisting Prosecuting Attorneys and the like, in indicting and convicting those who have gone beyond the law.

[*It is no longer politically correct to call “discussions” between police officers and suspects and witnesses (material and otherwise): “interrogation”. The latter term smacks of torture, intimidation, threats, creative manipulation to be used against you in a Court of Law, and so forth and so on. While these same techniques are, of course, still being used by and large, they’re now called “interviews”. Now... Doesn’t that make you feel just a whole lot better?]

Police and law enforcement officials in general have learned that the best way of obtaining the convictions of criminals, innocent people, and unwary bystanders, is to have someone -- anyone, actually -- confess their crimes... be said crimes real, imaginary, or whatever. A time honored way of obtaining such confessions is, of course, by the judicious [pardon the term] use of torture. In this situation, the innocence or guilt of the victim is largely irrelevant; the only important thing is to obtain a conviction so that the law enforcement system can justify its existence and rationalize a reason for anyone to want to arm strangers and give them extraordinary powers to use and/or misuse said powers against... well... pretty much whoever.

However... in our modern, enlightened age -- as previously noted -- many (aka some) law enforcement agencies are no longer using torture. They’re interviewing... searching for just the right candidate who will hang themselves without law enforcement having to soil their uniforms with splattered blood and so forth.

What is absolutely amazing is that the soft approach used by police in many parts of the United States, for example, has managed to obtain -- ostensibly without torture -- confessions on a grand scale. Rates of 80 and 85%! And all because they (“them”) simply outwit their adversary. The police are, after all, the professionals with a LOT of experience at... interviews... whereas their prey -- the lonely accused -- is relatively inexperienced and in fact often will be prevented from obtaining future experience by virtue of being in prison.

Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld novel, Making Money, phrased it this way:

"Talking to the Watch [Police] was like tap-dancing on a landslide. If you were nimble you could stay upright, but you couldn't steer and there were no brakes and you just knew that it was going to end in a certain amount of fuss."

So... why would anyone... voluntarily... talk to the police... much less confess? Particularly when if they do not confess, there is very little likelihood that they would ever have to pay for their crime(s)?

Well... basically... people confess:

1) -- Because they’re stupid;
2) -- Because they’re honest to a fault (there’s probably a pun somewhere in there); or
3) -- Because they’re tortured, worked over, interrogated, blind-sided, sand-bagged, tricked, manipulated, interviewed, and so forth and so on... and on and on... and on.

Most everywhere in the world, Number 3 is operational whenever -- and for whatever reason -- the police think someone is guilty... and the suspect is not someone with connections to powerful people with whom the police would much prefer to avoid entanglement. Such police are under the same constraints of having to justify their existence and expense... and time is often of the essence. Solve this bloody case, or else!

In the USA, however, there is a wonderful bit called The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Affectionately called" “The Fifth”, it basically says you don’t have to incriminate yourself. What a concept! And in the good ole USA, there is ADDED to that marvelous invention, all sorts of other laws that say a confession can’t be beaten out of you (Wow!), that you’re entitled to a defense attorney (cool!), that you don’t have to answer any questions by the police (Yea!), and that SCOTUS may even back you up on this... assuming you're really rich.

Many people may think most Western Countries are also equally enlightened. However, one is very likely to discover otherwise. Take Italy, for example, where you can be beaten in order to obtain a coerced confession, and then if you claim as much in court (even as your defense in claiming your "confession" was bogus), you can then be charged with the “crime” of defaming the law enforcement officials. Seriously.

Keep in mind that these people, by and large, voted for Benito Mussolini. They even have a history of supporting the Roman Catholic Church. We won't even get started on France or Germany.


Case in point: Several years ago, in Colorado, a young girl was found murdered. At no time after the discovery were her parents ever interviewed by the police. The parents, through their attorney, simply refused to say anything whatsoever to the police, the investigating District Attorney, or anyone else. They avoided any and all “interviews” like the plague (which, of course, they were). Basically they pled The Fifth Amendment from day one... (and something they have continued until the present day).

The case was never solved, and both parents have since moved away from Colorado. End of story.

[Now... don’t get caught up in the question of why the parents didn’t talk to the police; concentrate instead upon the fact that they didn’t have to... and therefore they didn’t.]

One might think of this as:

The No Interview Defense; just say no;
The judicious use of the Magical Word: no; and/or
Don’t talk to the Police, period.

One of the best youtube contributions in this regard is:


Yes, I know: It’s almost an hour long. Just watch it, you lazy outfit! Among other things, it’s quite entertaining and potentially very, very valuable.

Of course, if you think you’re clever enough to outwit the police, ignore the video. I have no doubt that you’ll love wearing orange. In some locales, it’s all the rage.

The alternative to saying no, of course, is to choose the horror behind door number one (above) and just be stupid. Keep in mind that the Police get that option a lot. Makes it much easier for them.

Keep in mind, also, that it’s always a good idea to be polite when you’re talking to the police; it’s as if there’s a reason for the similarity of the two words. Also, there is always the “Good Cop; Bad Cop” bit, and therefore, one can often appeal to the actor playing the “good cop” part with such tried and true lines as:

“Please, may I leave now?”
“I would like to leave now, if you don’t mind.”
“I would like to speak to my lawyer, please.”
“I really must insist on talking to my lawyer.”
“Does your tape recorder have any Barry Manilow?” [NOT RECOMMENDED... for several reasons!]
“Do you have the Miranda Warning written down, so I can read it, please? I'm hard of hearing.”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot let you inside my home without a search warrant.”
“No thanks; I don’t want a drink.” [Nor put my fingerprints on one of your containers.]
“No, thank you,”
And of course the really big one... ... .... maintaining... Silence.

Yes, I know: You will want to be cute, funny, clever... and so forth. This is the best bet for my own undoing... obviously. However... Cute can get you five to nine (years)... clever, a life sentence... and funny, death by dismemberment. Remember:

Better to remain silent and have people think you a fool; than to speak and remove all doubt.


What's the Point?

The (Hollowed) Halls of SCOTUS

Forward to:

World War III... and Other Entertaining Prognostications

Long Range Planning




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