That was easy!
Oh, fine. Let me go into a little more detail.
If you are the victim of a crime or need assistance in any way, absolutely talk to the police. But that’s not what this question is really asking. If there is any way that you might possibly be considered as a criminal, should you talk to the police (without a lawyer)? The answer is always no.
The main reason is that people just don’t know when they should or should not talk. So it’s better to just not talk in all situations.
Will it help you to talk to the police sometimes in these situations? Only if you have an air-tight alibi. (“I was in Europe all week, here’s my passport.”) The problem is that many people think what they say will help, and it doesn’t.
“If I explain to the cop why I hit the guy, he’ll certainly understand and not charge me” will not help you.
“Yes, I was there but I wasn’t involved with any of those guys” just gave the police half of what they need.
“I only had two beers, so surely the cop will understand that I’m not really drunk if I tell him that” isn’t in your best interest to say. (And don’t call him Shirley.)
It’s not your job to prove yourself innocent. It’s their job to prove you guilty. They need to prove that you were there, that you did something, and that the something you did was against the law. If you say, “Yes, I was there that night, but that didn’t happen” you’ve already made 50% of the case for them.
Remember: the police are trained to get confessions. That makes their job so much easier when that happens (and makes my job so much harder). Note that I said they are trained to get confessions. That’s not the same thing as saying they are trained to get the truth.
Look, I’m a trial lawyer. I’m trained to get confessions in a different way. I look at the statements made by officers and witnesses and look for errors, mistakes, misunderstandings, and lies. And I will use what you said against you at trial whenever I can. You’ll have to explain why you said what you did when you did. You think the District Attorney isn’t going to do the same thing to you, the defendant? Why give the DA the ammunition needed for that?
No, remain silent, as is your Constitutional right. Provide your name and address and identification if asked; don’t argue with the officer; don’t talk about your rights; remain polite and calm. Let the lawyer do the arguing for you later.
If nothing else, by not talking, I can work out a better deal for you if you have to plead to a crime. If you’ve already given the police everything they need, I have nothing to negotiate with on my side; nothing I can offer in exchange for a better deal.
The best legal advice I can give anyone is really quite simple: