It’s not uncommon for someone to give a report of a crime to the police, then later realize that maybe they shouldn’t have said all or part of what they said and wonder if it’s possible to recant. The short answer is yes, it’s possible to recant–but there are some caveats to be aware of when thinking of doing so. Ideally, someone would work with a criminal defense attorney before making a police statement, but even if they didn’t, working with one before recanting is highly recommended. Here’s what you need to know about recanting (which means to revoke or retract) all or part of a police statement in California.

What Is a Police Statement?

Simply put, a police statement is a record a law enforcement officer makes based on them asking questions and you answering them. This is usually in relation to a supposed or actual crime. Someone could be asked to give a statement if they’re under suspicion of committing the crime, or they were a witness or had reason to know something about the crime. This becomes a record that can be used by the defense and/or the prosecution if the case continues to develop.

Do I Have to Give a Police Statement if I’ve Been Accused of or Under Investigation for a Crime?

This is one of the foundational principles of the U.S. justice system: You have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. That’s in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

However, it’s not uncommon for law enforcement officers to try to persuade someone to make a statement even if the person in question invoked the Fifth. They may pressure that person by suggesting that it looks suspicious if they don’t answer questions, that things will be much worse if they don’t make a statement (or will go much better if they do make a statement).

If law enforcement officers begin to apply that type of pressure, don’t give in. Keep invoking the Fifth Amendment and refuse to talk until you can speak to an attorney.

Can I Recant Part or All of the Statement I Made to Police?

If you did make a statement and later come to regret it, there are remedies. You can revoke part or all of the statement. However, that won’t necessarily stop someone from being charged with a crime. If the state attorney has enough other evidence, they’ll go ahead and charge the person without the statement.

Are There Potentially Any Problems with Recanting a Statement?

Something vital to know about recanting part or all of a statement made to police, whether you’re the person under suspicion or a witness: If the statement was knowingly given with false information or lies, the person who initially gave the statement could find themselves facing criminal prosecution. That’s because it’s illegal to give a police officer false information, and doing so is also legally considered impeding justice. These are serious crimes.

At a minimum, giving a police officer false information could lead to a misdemeanor conviction resulting in up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Still, there are circumstances (including the nature of the crime) that could cause much steeper consequences.

Impeding justice, also known as obstruction of justice, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, resulting in a year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Just as with giving police officers false information, impeding justice convictions can result in harsher outcomes depending on the nature of the crime.

Suppose the person recanting the statement is under suspicion, and the statement was a confession. In that case, a judge can rule that the statement is still admissible in court, even if it was recanted.

Additionally, if someone provided false testimony during a court hearing could end up facing perjury charges.

Does That Mean Someone Should Never Consider Recanting a Statement?

No, not by any means. The situations above describe deliberate attempts to mislead law enforcement officials. But there are legitimate reasons to recant all or part of a statement, including:

  • The person making the statement realizes they made a mistake in the information they provided.
  • The police didn’t understand the statement being made, or they made an error in the statement itself.
  • The person making the statement was under the influence of drugs (illegal or otherwise) or alcohol.
  • The person who made the statement was under coercion by law enforcement officers. This can happen to either suspects or witnesses. Proving that coercion can be difficult unless it was recorded, but it has been known to happen–innocent people have been badgered into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit.

Another thing to understand is that experienced police officers have had plenty of encounters with people giving false police statements. They’re good at detecting when something doesn’t sound right, whether through the person’s voice, body language, or other tip-offs.

What Should I Do if I Made a Statement to the Police, But Now I Want to Recant All or Part of It?

Call the SoCal Law Network at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. Recanting all or part of a police statement is an action not to be undertaken lightly. It’s best to work with an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can guide you through the process and work to avoid problematic outcomes.