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Don't Answer That

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The accused is in an interrogation room and has demanded a lawyer, who has arrived. The lawyer sits at his client's side as the detectives/crime lab/whoever drops a key piece of evidence on the table and accuses them again of the crime.

The client immediately begins to confess. Sometimes the lawyer will attempt half-heartedly to stop him ("Don't answer that" or "This interview is over"), but the new evidence causes so much grief and repentance that the victim gives a bone-chilling Motive Rant which real-life detectives would kill to have. Sometimes, the lawyers don't say anything. One can only assume they got their payments upfront. Often the result of an Exasperated Perp.

Legally speaking, the detectives can ask anything they want once the lawyer is available to the client, but if the lawyer asks or demands to speak to the client alone, then police officers are required to leave the room or otherwise allow a private discussion. The fact that the lawyers in TV show simply tell their clients not to answer something does not prevent the detectives from continuing to question. Which usually means that the lawyers are pretty damn ineffectual.

Another type of Don't Answer That (featured in The Closer frequently, and both nonfiction-book and fictional-TV versions of Homicide: Life on the Street) is a ploy used by a detective to get suspects to waive their rights. ("He came at you, didn't he? That's self-defense. Whole different thing, then..." "Yeah, he did! He-!" "Whoa, whoa—don't answer that—you can't tell me that sort of thing unless you sign this waiver...")note 

The meta-reason for this trope is that viewers are aware that the interviewee is entitled to have a lawyer in the room, but narratively, they have nothing to do - the interesting interaction in the scene is between the suspect and the investigator, and having the lawyer do his job realistically would just put frustrating bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of the Pull the Thread process.

See also Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers.

Not to be confused with when someone tells someone else not to answer the door, phone, or whatever, or when one character asks an overly obvious or hypothetical question, and then quickly tacks on, "Don't answer that!" when he realizes that he's just committed a Rhetorical Question Blunder.


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    Comic Books 
  • A variation in Batman: Year One, where Dirty Cop Arnold Flass pretty much brags to Captain Gordon and Harvey Dent that his mob connections would kill anyone willing to testify against him tout suite. His lawyer sputters an immediate "My client didn't mean that..."
  • A variant occurs without a lawyer stating this in Jem and the Holograms (IDW). Clash, the gopher for the Misfits, tried to sabotage a charity concert the Holograms were performing at by using bolt cutters to drop a lighting fixture on the band. When Clash later appears with the Misfits, Kimber recognizes her from the concert and thinks Clash tried to kill the Holograms on orders from the Misfits. While Pizzazz previously made it clear she didn't want something like this to happen (because she wants the Misfits to beat the Holograms fair and square and the incident only got the Holograms more attention), she orders Clash not to say anything so the Misfits can remain ignorant and blameless of the affair.

    Fan Works 
  • In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, Estermann instructs his client Chrysalis to zip it when asked about her job, as it may work against her during the trial.
  • The Miraculous Ladybug fic Seducing the Enemy has a non-lawyer example. A plan of Adrien's has backfired and badly insulted his Love Interest, who is on the brink of tears. At this point, Plagg tells Adrien to shut up because anything he would say would only make things worse. Instead, Plagg comforts the girl and diplomatically explains to her the miscommunication that motivated Adrien to act the way he did.

  • Kangaroo Jack: A non-legal example combined with Rule of Three when Charlie pulls a gun on Mr. Smith to save Jessie.
    Smith: Have you ever held a gun before, Charlie?
    Louis: Don't answer that.
    Charlie: (Beat) No.
    Smith: Have you ever killed anyone before, Charlie?
    Louis: Don't answer that.
    Charlie: (Beat) No.
    Smith: What is it you do that makes you so brave?
    Louis: Really don't answer that.
    Charlie: (Beat, then raises gun) I'm a hairdresser. Now drop the knife.

  • A variant is done in Betrayed, when two police officers interview Zoey about the deaths and disappearances of several boys she knew from her human high school. Neferet sits in on the interrogation and continuously interrupts by insisting that Zoey not answer the questions. Given that Neferet was in no way acting as Zoey's legal advisor, was not a parent or guardian, and in fact informed the officers that all vampire students are legally emancipated (somehow), one wonders why the officers put up with her constant interruptions at all.
  • The primary job of the various accountants of the old-money Lavish family in Making Money is either advising their clients of this or performing an after-the-fact version by a disclaimer (for instance, when one Lavish casually mentions the idea of poison in relation to a very unhelpful dog, her lawyer immediately chips in to say she was not referring to any particular course of action, only the existence of poisons in general). In the climactic trial scene, Anhk-Morpork's chief zombie lawyer, Mr. Slant, asks a question of the Lavishes which causes their entire legal department to object at once. Slant makes them sit back down, in unison, with a single Death Glare.

    Live-Action TV 
  • If a suspect on Bones has a lawyer, they are invariably there for the purpose of saying this. One episode where Bones was the defendant had her increasingly exasperated lawyer marvel at just how Genre Blind Bones is for someone who works with the authorities all the time (Bones proactively gave the cops quite a bit of information that, unintentionally, made her appear more guilty than if she had just sat quietly until her lawyer could arrive).
  • Played with in New Tricks. The suspect is technically not entitled to a lawyer in the circumstances but is stubbornly refusing to speak without one. They set up an elaborate charade whereby an Old-Fashioned Copper pretends to be an obstructive defense lawyer who aggravates the investigator to the point that he flies into a rage and "shoots" him, terrifying the perp into confessing.
  • All the time on the The Closer. The perps never, ever listen to their lawyers unless the plot requires it. Probably the titular interrogator on the other side of the table was trained by the CIA. Sayeth one smart lawyer:
    "I hate my job."
  • The Wire plays a realistic version of this when it comes to the bureaucratic hurdles the police have to deal with. Bunk Moreland and Jimmy McNulty decide to trick D'Angelo Barksdale into writing a letter of condolence to the non-existent family of a recently murdered witness, with them also adding some embellishment's to the deceased's life to make him more of a community pillarnote  (hoping he'll include some incriminating information) as they wait for Maurice Levy to arrive. He gets there just in time, tells D'Angelo to stop writing immediately, and drags him out the door.
  • In the Prison Episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, this is an Averted Trope with the Winchester's public defender stopping the FBI interrogation and asking to meet with her clients alone.
  • Hunter: It's Rick Hunter who does this despite being a Cowboy Cop, in an episode involving a Vigilante Man who killed a gangster who raped his wife. The man is just about to confess when Hunter says, "Stop!" and then advises him of his rights, specifically the right to contact a lawyer. And the lawyer just happens to be a skilled Amoral Attorney who's frustrated Hunter in the past. Of course, a police officer advising a suspect to contact a particular lawyer would be illegal, as said lawyer points out.
  • On NCIS, this is one of M. Allison Hart's tactics for annoying Gibbs during interrogations.
  • Luke Cage (2016): After Mariah Dillard kills Cottonmouth in the heat of a fight, she and Shades pay off Candace Miller to provide a false story to the police implicating Luke Cage in the crime. The two of them also make sure to send in Ben Donovan, a crooked attorney on loan from Wilson Fisk and who bailed Cottonmouth out of custody when he was arrested for killing Misty Knight's partner, to make sure that Candace doesn't deviate from the cover story when Misty interrogates her. The first words out of Donovan's mouth when he enters the room mid-interrogation are:
    Benjamin Donovan: Don't say another word, Miss Miller. I'm representing you now.
    Det. Misty Knight: Is this snake your lawyer? Candace, if you're not guilty, you'll answer my questions.
    Benjamin Donovan: Nice try. My client isn't under arrest, Miss Miller?
    Candace Miller: I'm not guilty. What else do you want to know?
    Benjamin Donovan: Miss Miller, don't say another word.
    Det. Misty Knight: We used luminol and found traces of blood in Mr. Stokes' shower, even though it had been heavily bleached.
    Benjamin Donovan: [to Candace] Stand up and walk out.
    Det. Misty Knight: It's a good thing you got this high-powered flunky. I'm about to nail your ass to the wall.
    Candace Miller: It was Luke Cage! [beat] After I showered, I came out to see Cornell. I still needed my paycheck. I heard loud voices and a struggle. That's when I walked out and I saw Mr. Stokes down below on the floor. Luke Cage saw me and ran away. He was wearing bright yellow gloves, like the kind he used to use when he washed dishes.
    Det. Misty Knight: And you're positive it was Luke Cage?
    Candace Miller: You would know. I saw you two at the bar together the other night. I saw you talking outside, too. May I go now?
    Det. Misty Knight: Candace, look me in the eye. You were too scared to go upstairs and serve Cottonmouth without Luke. Table number seven, right? And then you started sleeping with him? But you still call him "Mr. Stokes." And you can't even tell me about his private entrance! What do they have on you, huh? Is it money? How much are they paying you?
    Benjamin Donovan: [to Misty] This is over. We're done.
    • Donovan continues to be a headache for Misty in this department several more times in season 2, first when showing up on Mariah's behalf to bail out Arturo Rey after Arturo tries to kill Luke by blowing up one of his trucks (then shooting him with a Judas shotgun when that fails). Later, the same happens when Mariah's brownstone is burned down by Bushmaster, while Shades kills Comanche upon finding out he's snitching to Captain Ridenhour. Donovan is shown handling Misty's interrogations of both Mariah and Shades, though he drops them midway through when he finds out Bushmaster has bankrupted them.
  • The Defenders (2017): Poor Misty Knight, always being interrupted by those damn lawyers that uncooperative suspects in murder investigations magically summon out of the blue. This time around, Misty is interrogating Jessica Jones. Jessica has been arrested after John Raymond is attacked by Elektra in Jessica's apartment (and shoots himself as she tries to skewer him with a katana), and Misty had earlier caught Jessica stealing evidence from an apartment where John had stockpiled explosives. As Jessica is about to tell Misty that John killed himself over "weirdass shit", the door suddenly opens and Matt Murdock (who's been sent by Foggy on Jeri's behalf) walks in.
    Matt Murdock: Jessica Jones, stop talking. [to Misty] Hi. This is over.
    Jessica Jones: [looks at Matt, confused] Who the hell are you?
    Matt Murdock: [smiles] My name is Matthew Murdock. I'm your attorney.
    Jessica Jones: [glances back and forth between Matt and Misty in wide-eyed disbelief]
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In The Drumhead, a witness in a Board of Inquiry concerning an explosion in the Enterprise's engine room is accused of lying about something irrelevant to the case in order to damage his credibility and insinuate his guilt. His advocate, Commander Riker, rushes to his side and whispers to him to refuse to answer. It doesn't help much, but by this point, the presiding judge has started to show an alarming disregard for proper procedure and Captain Picard pointedly calls her on this before putting a stop to an inquiry that has gone badly Off the Rails.

  • Without a Trace. While enduring a deposition regarding his divorce and custody of his daughters, Jack Malone's lawyer repeatedly interjects to tell him variations of this. In particular, when he's questioned him about his extramarital affair, the guy snaps, "He's not going to answer that!" when his wife's lawyer asks if his meetings with the other woman were "Quickies?"
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit naturally has defense attorneys doing this all the time. Parodied in "Closure", where the rapist claims that the reason the watch he stole from a victim has "Leo" monogrammed on it is that that's his Astrological Sign.
    Stabler: You're a Cancer, not a Leo.
    Cleary: All right, it was a nickname.
    Stabler: For who?
    Attorney: You don't have to answer that.
    Stabler: You get to Tribeca a lot?
    Attorney: You don't have to answer that.
    Stabler: What questions can your client answer?
    Attorney: Anything that's a matter of public record. I want to know what my client is being charged with.
    Munch: (to Stabler) You don't have to answer that.


    Western Animation