Follow TV Tropes


Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers

Go To

"What is on Kobe's mind? Going to Colorado, around all these white people, and not bringing Johnnie Cochran? Well, then they say, 'well if you hire Johnnie Cochran, you're going to look guilty.' Yeah, but you going home! You want to look innocent in jail? I'd rather look guilty at the mall."
Chris Rock, talking about the 2003 Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, Never Scared

In crime dramas, when someone is arrested, they are read their Miranda Rights, "You have the right to remain silent," "You have the right to an attorney," etc. It seems, however, that all good, law-abiding citizens are willing to waive their rights and talk to the police without any qualms at all. But as soon as someone demands a lawyer, or refuses to talk without one, you know instantly that they are a sleazeball. Maybe not the one the police are actually seeking, but they are definitely someone of ill repute.


The dramatic explanation, of course, is that if every suspect would call in a lawyer, the wait for the professional would both kill the flow of the scene and the lawyer reading out a carefully crafted and Teflon-smooth statement would be far less interesting to watch than a little Perp Sweating to reveal the suspect has an entirely different reason to lie and Be as Unhelpful as Possible that has nothing to do with the Mystery of the Week but gives the detectives a new piece of the overall puzzle.

This has no bearing on Real Life. Any law school professor can tell you that if you're arrested or the police think you committed a crime, you shouldn't talk to them except to say that you won't be answering questions and to ask for a lawyer (note that this doesn't mean that they're obligated to get you a lawyer — just that they can't interrogate you without one). In TV Land, only one or two crimes ever happen at the same time, while in reality, there are a lot more. You may want to help the police catch a crook, but in doing so, you may accidentally implicate yourself in another crime, or the same crime.


Keep in mind, this may be especially true of someone who has committed no crime — a reasonable, innocent person tends to think that he or she can explain the situation logically and reason it out with the police, but this can get you in a lot of trouble. Police officers are human beings, which means they're susceptible to all the cognitive biases of human beings. If they already have a narrative in their heads as to how a crime went down, it's very easy for them to fit an innocent person's comments into that narrative — not out of maliciousness, but a simple desire to solve a case. Most suspects never call their lawyers, regardless of whether they're guilty or innocent. Most suspects are also stupid.

This bears repeating because of how serious it is in Real Life. If you are ever arrested, for any reason: Get. A. Lawyer. Do not talk to the cops. Do not write down anything or sign anything the cops give you. Ask for a lawyer and until you get one, keep your mouth shut. The only words that should be coming out of your mouth are that you want a lawyer. Nothing else. Also, the police have no power to take you to the station without arresting you; if they ask you nicely to come to the station, you can politely refuse and leave at any time, unless they decide subsequently to arrest you (i.e. they must expressly state that you are under arrest, opening themselves to a false-arrest complaint if they have no legitimate justification for doing so). If you are talking to police for any reason such as if you're a witness to a crime, or if your lawyer has advised you to answer a question, do not ever lie (just say nothing) as that will not only make you look guilty, and if you are speaking to a US Federal agent, lying is actually a crime in itself.


This is a subtrope of Artistic License – Law. See also Be as Unhelpful as Possible, Don't Answer That.


    open/close all folders 

  • In his comedy special Never Scared, Chris Rock humorously criticizes Kobe Bryant for not getting a lawyer when he was accused of sexual harassment in 2003.
    Chris: What is on Kobe's mind? Going to Colorado, around all these white people, and not bringing Johnnie Cochran? Well, then they say, "Well if you hire Johnnie Cochran, you're going to look guilty." Yeah, but you going home! You want to look innocent in jail? I'd rather look guilty at the mall.
  • Tom Segura discusses the risks of applying this trope as outlined above while discussing the reality T.V. show The First 48:
    Tom: Here's what I've learned watching that show, okay? Lawyer. Up. You can't handle that shit. Everybody's like "I'm gonna talk to the cops and straighten this whole thing out!" You're gonna do 25 to life, have fun with that, man. Nobody asks for a lawyer. I've seen three-hundred people get interrogated on this show; two of them were like "Can I talk to a lawyer?" and both times the detectives were like "Fuck!"

    Comic Books 
  • Completely defied in Powers when Detective Pilgrim is being questioned by Internal Affairs. As soon as she realizes how serious the investigation is, she asks for a lawyer. The internal affairs investigator tries to imply this trope, roughly saying "You know what they say about people who insist on getting their lawyer..." to which Pilgrim responds "Yeah. They say that those people are smart."

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in Strange Times Are Upon Us. Ba'wov espouses this in the opening when she and Brokosh are being interrogated by the Department of Temporal Investigations. Brokosh correctly points out that you always get a lawyer regardless of your guilt or innocence.
  • Averted in The Ollivander Children when ordinary Muggle Mark gets arrested by the Ministry of Magic after being caught in possession of Calliope's wand. Despite being an ignorant idiot at worst, the second thing he does when put on trial is to demand legal counsel since he's smart enough to realize he has no idea what he's gotten himself into. (The first is to call Dolores Umbridge out on her conflict of interest in the case, since she arrested him in the first place.)
  • Parodied in The Coolest Evil Dumbledore Ever. When Dolores Umbridge starts asking uncomfortable questions, Arthur Weasley says he won't say anything without a lawyer. It is immediately treated as him giving his evilness away.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Town: Agent Adam Frawley claims this to be true when Claire Keesey (who doesn't know her new boyfriend is a high-profile robber) asks him whether or not she should have a lawyer present. Though he prefaces it by saying "it isn't a very civil libertarian thing" for him to say, as he's a cop. When Claire is later implicated in Doug's crimes, he says that this time she really will need a lawyer.
  • Discussed in Fury, when two patrons at a bar discuss rumors of what happened when the hero got arrested:
    Person 1: First thing he did was phone Chicago for his lawyer.
    Person 2: That's always the first thing a guy like that will do.
  • First defied, then played straight in Gone Girl. Nick holds off on hiring a lawyer because he's worried that it'll look bad for him; he turns out to be right. Then he winds up hiring a lawyer known for defending extremely guilty dirtbags.
  • Thoroughly deconstructed in My Cousin Vinny, which is often used to illustrate why you should always ask for a lawyer. The boys are innocent, they try to explain and cooperate, and through Separated by a Common Language-induced Poor Communication Kills accidentally confess to murder when they thought they were confessing to shoplifting. If it wasn't for Stan's cousin Vinny arriving to be their lawyer, they'd have been executed.
  • Basic Instinct: As the cops prepare to take Catherine to the station for questioning, she is asked several times if she wants an attorney present. She brushes off the suggestion, saying she doesn't need one. Earlier, she refuses to come to the station with them, knowing that she doesn't have to unless she's under arrest. It's clear that she's guilty as sin, she's just making a show of trying to appear assured of her ability to get away with it.
  • The Client. When the eponymous client, 11 year-old Mark Sway, is being interrogated by prosecuting attorney Roy Foltrigg and his team, he asks if he needs one and they respond with this trope. He asks to use the lavatory and Roy assumes he's going to fold, only then Mark's lawyer Reggie comes in with a recording of them telling Mark he doesn't need a lawyer or his mother present, both of which are violations of his rights. Given that John Grisham is a former attorney, it's hardly surprising it's an Averted Trope.

  • In David Simon's nonfiction work Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, upon which the TV series of the same name is based, the trope is deconstructed. The police's main tactic in solving cases boils down to: convince the perp not to call his lawyer, then lie to him about the evidence you don't have, and threaten him with a hardass prosecutor if he doesn't confess. At one point, a notably stupid suspect is convinced that beating a woman into unconsciousness and raping her was okay because he didn't strike the fatal blow, even thinkingnote  that he'll get a ride home. The police derive immense satisfaction from his crestfallen demeanor when the penny drops. Unfortunately, as good as this tactic is for putting down the low-level drug murders that make up the shift's bread-and-butter, it doesn't work a damn on the real players, who know exactly what to do. It's probably also worth noting it's a great way to get innocent people to confess to crimes they didn't commit.
    Interrogator: (sits down) Anything to say this time, Dennis?
    Perp: No sir, just want my lawyer.
    Interrogator: Fine, Dennis. (leaves)
    • Noted in a discussion with the detecitives themselves, who can't believe that anyone ever does ANYTHING in the box other than ask for a lawyer and shut their mouths.
  • Invoked and inverted in the second The Dark Tower book. Eddie has been detained on suspicion of drug smuggling (of which he is, in fact, guilty). After a lengthy interrogation, he threatens to get his lawyer involved. One of the interrogators invokes the trope directly. Eddie inverts it by admitting that he doesn't currently have a lawyer but will be retaining one as soon as he's released.
  • Semi-played straight in Discworld in general, but rather justified given the corrupt pre-Victorian justice system. In this case it's sort of a correlation =/= causation thing; the bad guys who ask for lawyers aren't asking for lawyers because they're bad guys, they're asking for lawyers because they have a tendency to be rich and think of themselves as above the law anyway, and they're usually asking for Mr. Slant, who is well known to be morally dubious at best anyway. Poor criminals have a tendency to not trust lawyers any more than Vimes does (of course, they also tend to be repeat offenders of much more minor crimes, with whom the Watch has an almost friendly relationship and not the actual bad guys). It also helps that if you're an innocent man, Commander Vimes genuinely is your best hope in the world of going free. Insomuch as an Aesop can be gleaned from Discworld, it seems to be that "if you're rich enough to afford a lawyer to begin with, you're that much more likely to be enough of a scumbag to abuse the privilege".
    • And when William de Worse ask for Slant, it's to protect his family's 'good name': yes, his father was a part of the plot, but his siblings and mother don't need to be taken down with him. Vines is pissed off to no end, but also seems pretty sure that William himself had no part in anything that happened (and is only a person of interest since he can name names).
  • A lampshaded aversion in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon: Randy “wondered whether it would be a bad idea, from a narrowly tactical standpoint, to ask for a lawyer so soon” after customs discover the drugs that were planted in his luggage.
  • In Crescendo, when Scott is arrested for breaking into Nora's house (granted, after she stole something from him and refused to return it), and the cop who arrests him says that Scott sounds guilty because he asks for a lawyer. Apparently angels posing as detectives don't fuss too much with mortal laws.
  • In The Westing Game, after Turtle sets off a bomb in an elevator, her mother tries to get her to profess her innocence. Turtle saying "I want a lawyer" is treated as all that needs to be said to seal any doubts on her guilt. Zigzagged in that while she did set off that particular bomb, she wasn't responsible for the others. Her sister, Angela, set them off, and Turtle took the blame for them. Further subverted in that when Judge Ford talks to Turtle, after the explosion, she figures out pretty quickly that Turtle was covering for Angela, and thus just lets her off with a warning.
  • Nick in Gone Girl is smart enough to know about this, and holds off on getting a lawyer, even when he's the main suspect for a murder he did not commit, specifically because of it. And then when he does get a lawyer, he gets one known for defending extremely guilty dirtbags.
  • The Demolished Man: The murderer Ben Reich calls his lawyer the instant the body is discovered at the party he's attending. The detective tells him openly that the fact that he's the only guest to call his lawyer immediately makes him the prime suspect.
  • Dead End Job Mysteries: More than once in the series, Helen or a friend or coworker of hers wants to call their lawyer (and they do), and the police immediately claim this as reason to be suspicious of them. Book 7 has a very specific lawyer show up to help Helen (who's been accused of murdering her ex-husband Rob after he faked his own murder to get away from his new "wife", who'd sent the lawyer in question), and the cops make it clear that they consider this particular lawyer arriving to be proof positive of Helen's guilt, due to his reputation for defending the obviously guilty.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Law & Order: There's about a 50/50 chance that someone who declines a lawyer and says "I've got nothing to hide" is implied to be bluffing. Averted and played straight at the same time in one episode. The police have a list of suspects that they want to get blood samples from. Everyone agrees except one guy, who is promptly arrested as no one else matched and immediately asks for his lawyer and it goes to trial. Later, it turns out he was completely innocent and just thought the taking of his blood was an unnecessary intrusion on his privacy. When he asks McCoy for an apology, McCoy refuses, and chastises him for wasting their time! Probably Hollywood Law, as they require probable cause to compel a blood sample or bring someone to trial. He's totally right — if they don't have it, they are intruding.
  • Criminal Minds
    • This is done quite often on the show, with the agents using the ploy of "if you help me solve the case (by confessing), I'll get you a deal with the DA". "Lawyering up" is seen as the worst thing that can happen to the case, since when it does, the interrogation stops and the suspect can walk free. The most notable example of a suspect walking after "lawyering up" is "Aftermath", when Elle Greenaway botches an undercover operation by going after the UnSub too early in the operation, allowing him to lawyer up and walk out a free man. Greenaway would later find him and shoot him dead, leading to her eventual release from the team.
    • Subverted in season 11 episode "Internal Affairs", it's not the suspect threatening to get her lawyer husband that makes her guilty. It's that she never carries out with the threat that makes the BAU realize that if he found out that she was arrested, he would know she is guilty.
    • Averted when Hotch is arrested by Internal Affairs and threatens to ask for a lawyer unless the case against him is explained. The interviewer tries to invoke this by saying that only guilty people call their lawyers, to which Hotch replies "No, smart people do".
  • NYPD Blue
    • The detectives (or at least one of them) would regularly play good cop on a perp, saying he should confess and he'll get a lighter sentence, etc. They'd do practically anything to keep someone from calling his lawyer.
      Perp: I know my rights. I want a lawyer.
      Detective: Oh, now, you don't want to do that. If you call a lawyer I can't help you.
    • When the detectives want to interview somebody who is not a direct suspect (at least not yet), and this person refuses to talk to them without a lawyer present, it is viewed as a huge irritation. Persons doing this are usually portrayed in quite an unsympathetic light (which is only partly justified by the story being told from the detectives' point of view).
  • Las Vegas:
    • Played straight in an episode when Danny McCoy, a casino security expert, is falsely being accused of sexual harassment.
    • Played with when Danny catches MIT computer experts hacking into the Montecito, when they ask for a lawyer (knowing he's not a cop, strangely) he resorts to claiming the case is now out of their hands and Homeland Security take over, leading to them admitting they wanted to get into the signage to slag off Cal Tech.
  • Generally averted on The Rockford Files. Jim Rockford, the clear hero, would always immediately request to speak to an attorney after being arrested. Conversely, total sleazeball Angel Martin always tried to talk immediately.
  • Constantly on Bones. Even if a person isn't the killer, once they call a lawyer you can tell they're going to be bad in one way or another.
    • When Booth and Bones are in New Orleans, she becomes a murder suspect. Bones, being logical, tells the police everything she knows to clear her name faster, against Booth's vehement advice. Booth, being a cop, knows her story makes her sound guilty and calls their lawyer friend to represent Bones. Their lawyer friend also tells Bones to shut up.
  • Very prevalent in Castle. If a suspect is the least bit law-savvy, the characters will state among themselves, "He's lawyering up." and treat it as the worst thing in the world that he is even allowed to do this.
    • But also subverted because people who lawyer up turn out to be innocent about half the time.
    • It's subverted another way in 'Hedgefund Home Boys' when the character who is guilty explicitly refuses a lawyer because he thinks he's completely untouchable. This backfires spectacularly when Castle tricks him into admitting his guilt.
    • One episode played with this, where a well-to-do woman brought in for questioning (and not even as a suspect) comes in with about a dozen lawyers. In this case, though, it wasn't used to make her look guilty, but to make her look like a Rich Bitch who felt she was above such petty concerns as law or justice.
    • In one episode, a dominatrix is thought to be a murderer because she asks for a lawyer in the middle of questioning. When she turns out to be innocent, it's decided that she insisted on a lawyer simply to be unhelpful in a show of dominance...and because she was a former lawyer herself.
      • At another point in the same episode, she pointed out that due to NDAs with her clients, she couldn't share their names without a warrant. She wasn't trying to be unhelpful (and said as much), she just knew that if she didn't she could easily be sued by her clients (who, in turn, could be ruined by revelations of visiting her). Very much Surprisingly Realistic Outcome.
    • Castle himself lawyered up when he was framed for a murder. Not immediately, because he really could be sure that the police wanted to help him, but when the evidence really started to mount, he didn't hesitate.
  • In the season 5 finale of Dexter, the other characters (all police officers) treat Detective Quinn this way when he requests to speak with an attorney when it's likely that he might be implicated in a crime that he didn't actually commit.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Subverted in an episode when a murderer makes a full confession without his lawyer present, only to later have the whole thing thrown out because he offhandedly mentioned said lawyer, which he claims constituted a request. The judge actually buys it.
    • But yet another episode (and probably countless more) has Stabler browbeating a man into continuing the interrogation despite the fact that he's asked for a lawyer and also asked to leave (which he's allowed to do if he's not under arrest). When the confession is promptly thrown out because of this, Stabler takes no responsibility, instead blaming Alex for the screw-up.
      • In fact, Stabler is practically the poster child for why you should lawyer up and not say anything other than "I want a lawyer" until you get one. In real life, any halfway-competent defense attorney could have most cases Stabler is involved in thrown out of court because of precisely this tendency of his. But police actually following real-life procedures doesn't make for dramatic TV.
    • Deconstructed in a later episode when Rollins was framed for a murder. Despite her captain's advice she refused to lawyer up, claiming she did nothing wrong and tried to be as helpful as possible, being completely honest and even bringing new evidence to the Internal Affairs. She ended up inadvertently implicating herself and got arrested for her trouble. Being a detective herself, she should've known better. On the other hand, she didn't expect for her own sister to set her up. Thankfully, her coworkers managed to trick the guilty party into confessing of the frame up.
  • Without a Trace had an innocent man confess to a crime after hours of Perp Sweating; Viv suggested he might be innocent because he didn't ask for his lawyer during that whole time.
  • Subverted in Homicide: Life on the Street. The "Documentary" Episode discussed this at length by implying that it is only natural for a man, even an innocent one, who has been arrested, accused of a violent crime, dealing with hostile or indifferent officers, and generally terrified, to ask for an attorney. They also show that the reason many criminals don't ask for Legal Aid is that they fear being charged without saying their piece or offering an explanation.
    • They further claify that the only smart move is to shut up and ask for a lawyer. "Look, Bunkie. Talking to a police detective is only going to hurt you". The full clip can be found here.
  • One Shark episode featured a serial killer named Wayne Callison dismissing his lawyer and making his own defense against five murder charges and an attempted murder. Prosecutor Sebastian Stark feared having no lawyer would help Callison look innocent.
  • Cold Squad:
    • Exploited in "Personal Politics": the suspect asks to speak with his lawyer, but the detectives say that there's no need to get a lawyer involved, they just need him to explain his alibi. Wanting to appear helpful, he does so — and then the detectives immediately tear the alibi apart, having previously questioned the other people involved, and merely needing him to either confess or get caught in an obvious lie.
    • In "All in the Family," the fact that a suspect not only got a lawyer but got an expensive lawyer, provides a clue that he's guilty of more than the police knew about.
  • This is commonly averted on Harry's Law; the suspects in violent crimes who hire Harry are almost always innocent or in a moral grey area.
  • Happens occasionally on The Closer. Brenda's expert interrogation techniques include getting the suspect to waive their rights to counsel, and sometimes she invokes this trope to get them to do so, basically telling them that there's no need for them to call a lawyer, that all it will do is make them look more guilty and as long as they don't have anything to hide it's easier for everybody if they just talk to her without a lawyer present. Usually it works, even though she's pretty much bullshitting them.
  • Frequently done on Walker, Texas Ranger. Even with hard-core criminals who usually know to keep their mouths shut and ask for an attorney. Asking for one immediately makes someone look like an unrepentant sleazeball hiding behind an equally sleazy attorney. To make matters worse, it's usually Alex, a prosecutor who is not allowed to lie to a suspect, who is seen doing something very similar to the NYPD example posted above—telling them that if they ask for a lawyer, all chances of a deal are gone. On the show, this always makes the criminal quickly agree to cooperate. In Real Life, this is flat-out unethical conduct that would result in her being​ reprimanded.
    • Another especially bad example involves a bratty kid demanding a lawyer before he talks to the cops. His father refuses and basically threatens to beat the crap out of him if he doesn't tell the cops what he knows. The Rangers stand there looking downright smug and amused at the whole thing. Never mind that they just violated the rights of someone who, as rude as he is, explicitly asked for an attorney. In Real Life, after that, anything he said would almost certainly be inadmissible in court.
    • In another episode, two rangers, Sydney and Gage arrive at someone's home to ask if his brother (their murder suspect) is there. The man says no and tries to close the door on them, only for Gage to push it open and force his way into the apartment—without a warrant, and against the man's clearly expressed refusal to let them in.
    • This trope is applied so frequently that when Alex herself is a murder suspect, she talks to the cops and assistant DA without an attorney. As a lawyer herself, she should know how stupid this is—her own father, also an attorney, practically gives her a Dope Slap about this.
  • Cold Case:
    • A man being relentlessly interrogated by Stillman asks for a lawyer, who coldly dismisses the request—"Why? Did you do something wrong?" When the man says "No, but—", Stillman cuts him off and continues badgering him. Another episode has them dragging in a suspect, who immediately asks for a lawyer. When the detectives attempt to begin interrogating him, the man staunchly repeats his request and turns away, making it clear that he will not say a word until his attorney arrives.
    • Another suspect didn't hire a lawyer, but he refused to speak with the police or otherwise cooperate with them, also refusing to take a DNA test. Both of which are well within his rights (unless they have probable cause to compel the test), but Vera took this as definitive proof of his guilt and as such, relentlessly hounded the man until the DA needed to warn him to back off.
    • In yet another episode, the ex-lover of a murder suspect believes him to be guilty because of how fast he hired a lawyer, clearly believing in this trope. And given that he turned out to be guilty, it's played straight. Ironically, it's the detective questioning her who tells her that that's actually the smart thing to do.
  • Sort-of-inverted in the second Elementary episode. After being informed that the suspect won't talk and he has a lawyer, Holmes says that's astute of him, because he's innocent. Apart from this, no one on the show lawyers up, guilty or no. Richer suspects do sometimes arrive with legal representation already in tow, but they tend to get in one or two lines at most before Sherlock explains why their presence is irrelevant.
  • Averted in the 1990's Australian TV cop series Phoenix and its Law Procedural spin-off, Janus. Although the police detectives despise barrister Michael Kidd for successfully defending the cop-killing Hennessy family, the main detective protagonist doesn't hesitate to recommend Kidd to a fellow officer who'd been falsely accused of police brutality.
  • Zigzagged in NCIS, lawyering up happens all the time, and if it does the one doing it is just as likely to be completely innocent as they are guilty of something.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Played around with in "Face Off", where a few police detectives grab Jesse for a "conversation", which is about the poisoning of his girlfriend Andrea's son Brock, and after he realizes they're fishing for evidence he asks for his attorney. They give him a momentary spiel about how there's no need since he's not actually under arrest, how lawyers will just complicate "straightening the matter out", and how it could be taken the wrong way, but he doesn't fall for it, and just calls Saul.
    • In "Hermanos", Gus is called in to discuss possible involvement in Gale's death. This could be the turning point that causes the police to discover Gus's massive drug empire, but since Gus is a Villain with Good Publicity who deliberately built up a good rapport with law enforcement, he doesn't call an attorney to speak with the detectives since he knows that would raise suspicions. He instead defuses the situation himself with a quiet, believable alibi.
    • in "Madrigal," Mike invokes this by not bringing an attorney when he's summoned to the DEA office to be interviewed by Hank and Gomez about his potential involvement in Gus's drug operation. Before they start the questioning, Gomez asks Mike to affirm that he is waiving his right to have an attorney present, and has Mike say this directly to the video camera so that it's on the official record. Being a former cop who's conducted many interrogations himself, Mike is able to sit through the interview and doesn't crack at all, even when Hank drops the reveal that they've found out about an offshore bank account in Mike's granddaughter's name in an attempt to get Mike to let his guard down.
    • In Season 5B, Skyler proves she is well acquainted with how little this trope has to do with reality when Hank tries to invoke it when asking her to give evidence against Walt. Instead of reacting as he'd hoped, she instead sees through his act of manipulation as an instant red flag that Hank isn't interested in protecting her, only in getting Walt at any cost.
  • Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad, uses it just as well:
    • It calls BS on this trope in "Uno". When the county treasurer Craig Kettleman is implicated for embezzling $1.6 million, Jimmy McGill explains that what gets innocent people wrongly convicted is they're concerned about looking guilty, but they're mistaken about what makes a person look guilty in the first place. Getting arrested is what makes people start assuming you must be guilty of something, (whether you actually are or not) not your decision to not lawyer up. Furthermore, without an attorney present, it's fairly easy for a detective to twist what you said and get you convicted even if you're innocent.
    • Makes a more subtle second appearance in "Five-O", the sixth episode of the first season, when Mike is questioned by police. They do their best to convince him he doesn't need legal counsel because he isn't under arrest, and seem disappointed that as a fellow police officer he isn't willing to cooperate with them by answering questions informally. Mike, being Mike, isn't fooled, and only replies with one word no matter what they say: "Lawyer." To take it a step further, he is in fact guilty of the crime they're questioning him for: the revenge-murder of the two corrupt cops who set up his son Matthew to get killed.
    • Discussed again in the season 2 episode "Cobbler" when Daniel Warmolt, a new-time drug dealer who's been ripped off by Nacho, calls the cops to complain about his baseball card collection being stolen, but the cops quickly suspect that he's a drug dealer and start investigating him under the guise of investigating the burglary. Mike, who had been hired by Daniel as muscle, figures this out and hires Jimmy to be Daniel's attorney. The cops are openly suspicious that a man who called the cops has an attorney present during questioning. Jimmy ultimately has to come up with an outlandish justification for why the dealer is so protective of his privacy to throw the cops off the trail.
  • In Madam Secretary, Elizabeth McCord is facing possible charges of violating the Espionage Act. At the suggestion of getting a lawyer, she answers, "I don't want a lawyer. It'll make it look like I need a lawyer." Still wrong, but a justified attitude in this case due to the realities of politics: as she's the Secretary of State and a longtime friend and coworker of President Dalton, her looking guilty would reflect badly on him as well.
  • In an episode of Tales from the Crypt, a horror writer is arrested near the scene of a grisly murder. He considers calling a lawyer but decides against it because he believes it'll make him look guilty. Deconstructed when it turns out he is innocent and the detective is the killer, but without a lawyer to protect him, he's browbeaten into giving a confession and ends up on death row.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: Subverted in "Terra Prime". When Gannet is accused of being The Mole for Terra Prime and her alibi falls apart, she clams up and demands a lawyer, to which the Enterprise crew throw up their hands in dismay — they obviously think she's stalling for time. It turns out that she is a mole, but she's actually working for Starfleet Intelligence, not Terra Prime.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Averted in "Non Sequitur". When Harry Kim realises he's suspected of treason, he refuses to continue without legal counsel. This is likely a Continuity Nod to TNG's "The Drumhead", which had An Aesop about the subject of legal rights.
  • Inverted on Corner Gas, where Davis thinks someone he's arrested is suspicious because he doesn't ask for a lawyer. It turns out that the reason he didn't ask is that he is one.
  • Luke Cage (2016): The first season frequently features police officers ignoring or resisting suspects' right to an attorney.
    • Candace gives a false witness account to Misty on behalf of Mariah. Mariah does send Benjamin Donovan to Candace to make sure her story stays straight, but Misty tries to pressure her into ignoring the lawyer's advice and coming clean.
    • Luke consistently rejects the idea of having a lawyer until the last moments of the series. He claims that since he's innocent, he doesn't need a lawyer, even though Claire keeps insisting that she knows a good one. He finally relents when he is arrested for illegally escaping from Seagate (where he was imprisoned for a crime he was framed for), a crime he did commit.
    • Shades, a career criminal, spends his entire time while under arrest requesting a lawyer. Inspector Ridley continues to question him without a lawyer present, even though his testimony would be invalid at this point. Despite her best efforts to intimidate him with the long jail time he's looking at, he refuses to crack and even trolls her a little.
    • After Diamondback kills a police officer to implicate Luke as a Cop Killer, some cops pick up Lonnie, a kid that knows Luke. The boy immediately demands that his mother, who is in law school, be present. Unfortunately, tensions are high, Luke is believed to have killed one cop and assaulted two others (and the dead cop happens to be the interrogator's former training officer), and Lonnie has a bit of an attitude, causing the interrogator to eventually lose his temper and take it out on Lonnie.
  • On Baywatch, when Eddie is arrested for statutory rape (wrongly, as the supposed victim lied), one of the cops questioning him, who happens to be a friend of his, gently tells him that he shouldn't have waived his rights to an attorney. Eddie angrily and staunchly tells him that he doesn't need one because he didn't do anything.
  • The Punisher (2017): Billy Russo is asked by Dinah to come down for questioning, as she's figured out that he killed Sam Stein.
    Dinah Madani: I thought you'd be accompanied by counsel.
    Billy Russo: Why? Lawyers are for the guilty.
  • Generally averted on Hill Street Blues, as one of the main characters is a Public Defender. In fact, Captain Furillo sometimes uses the fact a particular suspect has asked for a lawyer to his advantage; since they're refusing to speak to the police until they have counsel, they've no excuse not to keep their mouths shut and listen while he delivers a few hard truths about how much trouble they're in.
  • Hotel Beau Séjour: Out of all the police interrogations depicted in the show, the only character to request a lawyer was Varderkerk, a notorious drug dealer. (He was innocent of the murder in question but wanted to conceal his drug business.)
  • The People v. O.J. Simpson: When OJ returns home to the scene of the crime, Robert Kardashian tells him he shouldn't talk to the police without a lawyer, but OJ goes along for an interview on the basis that it will make him look guilty if he brings a lawyer.
  • One Life to Live. When gang-rape leader Todd Manning attacks his victim Marty again, her friend Luna happens upon the scene and hits him over the head with a pipe. Unfortunately, when giving their statement to the cops, everything they say is misinterpreted and the cops are left with the impression that Luna was acting like a vigilante rather than defending her friend. Her fiancé is horrified to realize that she talked to the police without a lawyer, but she insists, "I didn't have anything to hide!"
  • Subverted in Motive, the homicide detective protagonists respect defence attorneys as an important part of the justice system (it's a Canadian show), and often encourage people they suspect may be innocent or have extenuating circumstances to get lawyers. In one episode, they are visibly disgusted by a public defender who encourages his client to plead guilty despite minimal evidence, and his explanation that he believes his client is guilty and he's just trying to "help [them] out", even giving the suspect contact information for a non-profit that can provide better representation.

  • Lampshaded in Margin for Error. When Horst refuses to answer any of Moe's questions until he contacts his lawyer, Denny remarks, "Exactly the tone a guilty man takes." Horst gets indignant and insists on his legal rights.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 2, at least half of Elias Kelham's dialogue when you have him arrested consists of "I want to see my lawyer." The other half consists of "Come on, hit me. I dare you." On the other hand, informing that you are a Spectre, and therefore do not have to give him a lawyer, will cause him to talk immediately. Either way, going into the interrogation you do actually immediately know that Kelham is a crime boss and that he's already ordered an assassination, so calling for the lawyer is not, itself, treated as a flashing sign that he's a bad guy.
  • Inverted in the Ace Attorney series, in which Wright and co. all defend the wrongly accused, and (for the most part) never defend the guilty party. On the other hand, quite a few people buy into the belief that defense attorneys are sleazeballs who only keep criminals out of jail.
    • Played straight in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, where when the legal right to a certain artifact comes under question, the plaintiff, Paul Atishon sues Apollo's client with the best lawyer money can buy: Phoenix Wright. When suspicion comes onto Paul for the murder of Archie Buff he asks if he can see his lawyer, except his lawyer resigned only a few minutes prior.
    • Justified Trope in two ways. In Phoenix Wright? EVERYONE is considered guilty until proven innocent...and both Phoenix and Apollo have limited mind-reading capabilities.
    • In the epilogue, the Big Bad is looking for a lawyer to represent them... after they tried to make a law that banned all lawyers in their country. Even the sleaziest lawyer isn't going to respect that level of petty hypocrisy.
  • Deliberately used as a Red Herring in one of the Eagle Eye Mysteries challenge cases where one of the suspects is uncooperative and demands a lawyer. If you accuse her of the crime, her careful explanation of innocence assumes that you did so primarily because of that reason.
  • Played With in the Henry Stickmin Series, since Henry's an Anti-Hero. One of the possible routes in Escaping the Prison has Henry get a cell phone and use it to call his lawyer (Phoenix Wright himself), who will get him acquitted of the charges brought against him. Doing so nets you the 'Lame' ending. The Collection version replaces "Phoenix Wright" with "Felix White" and calls this the "Lawyered Up" ending.
  • MadWorld: When Jack confronts the mastermind behind the Deathwatch games, he tries to ask for a lawyer. Jack chainsaws him off a skyscraper.

    Web Comics 
  • Darths & Droids has a succinct explanation of why this should be averted. Also applies as A Fool for a Client:
    A trial is a contest of Law skills between the prosecution and the defence. Most people will hire a lawyer and make use of their Law skill. Do you really want to defend yourself and use Law at the default skill level?
  • In Blood And Smoke, Carson's partner evokes this trope during a conversation. Turns out the trope is averted as the suspect discussed isn't guilty.
  • Schlock Mercenary. Played for Black Comedy when Schlock is accused of a murder and demands a lawyer, whom he promptly eats in front of the horrified police. "I wanted a snack."note  Schlock is actually innocent of the murder he's been accused of (not that the mercenaries aren't guilty of a lot of other crimes, including murder) and his next lawyer (this one a member of his mercenary unit) tries in vain to get him to shut up while being interrogated.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Holio", in a scene where Lilo pretends to have been arrested:
    Lilo: [behind bars at Kokaua Town's jail] I know my rights! I demand a lawyer!
    Officer Kaihiko: Lilo, you're not under arrest. Come out of there before someone sees you.
    Lilo: Not until I get my One Phone Call.

    Real Life 
  • In the United States, at least, if the police appear to think that you have committed a crime (and especially if they've actually arrested you), you should definitely not say anything to them except for asking to see a lawyer. "Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law," no matter how innocuous you think it may be. Even saying that you're innocentnote  can be twisted against you.note  And that's not getting into all the different ways that "acting like someone who is innocent" can translate into "showing no remorse" with the right prosecutor.
  • This lecture by Prof. James Duane of the Regent University School of Law and Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department (Alt-Link) explains why you should always get a lawyer. Examples given include falling into I Never Said It Was Poisonnote  and accidentally confessing to something you didn't know was a crime. The most pointed element in the lecture is the revelation that if you implicate yourself in any way, it may be used against you in court, just as the Miranda warning says. However, anything else you say, even if it's helpful for your case, may not be brought up. Even if you bring the officer who heard what you said that helps your case onto the stand, and even if he tells the truth, the prosecutor can have it thrown out as "hearsay."
    • It's very important to note that in some jurisdictions this is simply not good blanket advice - in particular, England and Wales have a qualified right to silence, in that while you can't be compelled to talk, courts can hold it against you if you don't mention something in questioning that you later choose to rely on in court as part of your defence (e.g. "I don't own a car" is something you'd be expected to have brought up at an interview if that was part of your defence against a charge of dangerous driving), and you should at the very least consult with a solicitor before you choose to stay silent at interview. The British equivalent of the Miranda Warning spells this out at point of arrest.
  • The 2001 anthrax attacks were a particularly horrific example where the "suspect(s)" didn't even know they were suspects. Biowar agencies such as USAMRIID and the CDC sent the FBI some consultants on biological warfare to aid in the investigation. However, the FBI decided that because the skills and proficiency needed for the attacks were so rare, the consultants were prime suspects. The FBI then dropped all other leads, put the consultants under 24-hour surveillance, put their lives under microscopes, and when one of them committed suicide due to unending harassment, the FBI pointed their fingers at the corpse and declared the case closed. This resulted in the FBI becoming extremely unpopular with the intelligence community, because their own efforts revealed two damning facts: first; the anthrax strain had never before been seen in the Western hemisphere, and second; though they recognized an element of how the anthrax was prepared, it was a Soviet technique no Western scientist has been able to reproduce. To this day, American military biologists consider the attacks their equivalent of the Roswell landings.
  • Remember the “Cannibal Cop”? He was eventually released on appeal because nothing he had done was illegal. He was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap, murder and eat several women he knew, but it was all just role play on an extreme fetish website, he was never going to follow through on it. Nightmare Fuel? Yes. Conspiracy to commit murder? No. The shadiest thing he did was use pictures of women (including his wife) without their knowledge and consent in his role-play scenarios, sleazy as hell, but if you were going to put him in jail for that you’d have to arrest half the internet. When he was initially arrested he refused a lawyer and decided to cooperate fully with the investigation, since he’d done nothing wrong and, as a police officer himself, he was sure that investigators would realise this was all a misunderstanding and clear him quickly. They didn’t.
  • The "kafkatrap", a logical fallacy named after Franz Kafka's The Trial, runs off this logic. Someone makes an Abomination Accusation Attack, the accused denies and/or defends themselves against the accusation, and their "defensive" behaviour is then taken as evidence of their guilt. After all, "I'm not an axe murderer" is exactly what an axe murderer would say!


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: