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What is a person of interest?

When you hear the phrase “person of interest,” the first thing that may come to your mind is the now defunct TV series by that name that ran for a number of seasons in New York and across the country. It was a very dark drama based on the premise that “you are being watched” by the government and others whose supercomputers track you down so government officials can do you harm.

In real life, there may be no supercomputers tracking your every movement, but if law enforcement officers or a district attorney names you as a person of interest in a criminal case, you could make a good argument that they are out to do you harm. At the very least, they are not your friends.

Person of interest status

In real life, a person of interest is someone who law enforcement and/or prosecutors believe was involved in an unsolved crime, but they do not have the necessary evidence to prove it. So they do not call you a suspect and they certainly do not arrest you. Why not? Because they do not need to read you your Miranda rights until they arrest you. Consequently, if you voluntarily comply with a request from your local police department to “come in and talk with us since you were in the vicinity and might have seen something,” they do not need to tell you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to have your criminal defense attorney present whenever they question you.

You should never voluntarily talk with law enforcement officers investigating a criminal case unless you have your attorney present in the room with you. Likewise, you should decline to speak with them over the phone until you have had the opportunity to consult an attorney. Why? Because they are attempting to gather evidence against you, and they hope you will provide it by something you say. If you inadvertently do, then they arrest you and read you your Miranda rights. But it is already too late.

So forget the supercomputers and the conspiracy theories. That is TV drama. But do not forget that it is against your best interests to be “interesting” in a criminal investigation.

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