Combs Waterkotte Interview Part Two

Combs Waterkotte is Missouri’s Leading Criminal Defense and DWI/DUI Law Firm, with over 10,000 successful cases handled. This interview serves as an introduction to our firm and is part of a five-part series designed to educate, inform, and assist you during a stressful time.

Episode Transcript

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s nice to know that you guys are personable, reliable, available, and you care. It’s a big deal. We were just talking about how to pick an attorney.

What I’ve got here is a list of some questions that we picked up through SEO and activity. So Q and A type [questions]. What are the most popular things people ask attorneys?

So we’re going to touch on a few. We’re not going to spend a whole lot of time on these types of questions. But this is a great opportunity for the viewers to hear and see the knowledge base, the opportunity that they have when choosing Combs Waterkotte. The one big one, and this is just general criminal defense, “What do you do when you’re charged with a crime?”

Like, if you had an order of operation, or a chronological order. Suddenly, you are charged with a crime, and you have to start to do something. What is it?

Steve Waterkotte: Number one is remain silent. That’s critical. Comply with the officer. It does nobody any good to combat, to be hostile, resist anything like that. Let’s deal with it in the courtroom, not the street. Number one is most important is again, remaining silent. You do not answer questions. And that even goes for folks that are truly innocent. It kind of is counter-intuitive. “Well, if I’m innocent, why shouldn’t I just tell the police.” It could be an innocuous detail. Like, “I was at this local 7/11 getting gas.” Well, the robbery happened there. Now we can tie you there. And that’s just an example. And that’s somebody that’s truly innocent. Let’s use that hypothetical, now they just put themselves at the crime scene.

So even if you’re innocent, don’t answer questions. And you can politely decline that and that’s your constitutional right.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s a good thing to know because I think most people think, “Well, I just need to tell them. I just need to tell them I’m innocent and here’s why.”

Steve Waterkotte: So many people. And I always tell clients, and I’ve heard Chris say this too. There [are] thousands and thousands of people in prisons and jails across this country only for the fact that they talked to the police. I can think of a couple of cases that I have right now, that but for the fact they spoke to police they had no evidence and no case against them.

It is a fundamental constitutional right, but it is also tough for somebody that has police presence, uniformed officers asking them questions, despite the fact that we all know we have a right to remain silent. “If I don’t answer, I look bad or I look guilty.” I say “I don’t give a damn what it looks like.” What we care about is the evidence. So I think that is the number one thing. It’s critical.

Scott Michael Dunn: Shut up, just shut up. Don’t incriminate yourself.

Steve Waterkotte: And then number two, call Combs Waterkotte. We’re available 24/7. Things like this don’t happen nine to five. These things happen at midnight and 2AM. So call an attorney. Call us. We’re available 24/7. Then we start the process of guiding our clients at that point.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right. Which is nice, because when you actually care about your clients, you guide them in a direction that’s personal. You’re personally invested in guiding them to the right place.

Chris Combs: Absolutely. We’ve got people coming in or going through the most trying times of their lives. As Steve said, we put the client first. They lean on us not just for legal advice, but for personal advice and how to best get themselves through this tough situation that they’re facing.

Scott Michael Dunn: All right. So, I love that we can just talk like it’s normal, right? It feels like these questions are so hard to ask anybody. Because you don’t know the answer. So in this case, someone gets potentially charged, or at least questioned, and then they have no idea. So what they feel like they should do is explain why they shouldn’t be charged. And they explain all these great details about why they’re innocent and why they should be free. Because they didn’t do anything wrong. And then all that time, people don’t know, all that time, they’re incriminating themselves. The whole time. It doesn’t even matter if they’re like, “Well, my mom likes Coca-Cola for breakfast.” “Well Coca-Cola was at the location and they were missing a Coca Cola.” Holy moly, like, it doesn’t even matter.

Chris Combs: And I don’t want to come down on law enforcement, but they’re trying to build a case more often than not.

Scott Michael Dunn: Before they even arrived on site.

Steve Waterkotte: Right. They’re not there – “Hey I didn’t do it.” “Well OK, let’s close the book on that and exclude him as a suspect.” Everything they’re doing, like Chris said, is they are building a case. They’re trained professionals to elicit incriminating information on a person of interest, a suspect. They’re not there to say “Hey, I didn’t do it,” “OK, let’s cross that guy off the list.” It’s not that easy.

Chris Combs: You got too many people watching TV and these Law & Order shows, and CSI. A lot of them don’t realize that law enforcement is legally allowed to lie when they’re investigating a case.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s insane.

Chris Combs: I know.

Scott Michael Dunn: So they just rope you into a corner?

Chris Combs: Sure. And they can say – and this is kind of a silly example – but they can say, “Look, we’ve got your DNA at the scene.” And they don’t have their DNA at the scene. [They say it] to elicit a confession or statement. I know Steve’s seen it.

Scott Michael Dunn: So, shut up. Just shut up. I love that. That’s special. So really there is no chronological order of what to do. There is just shut your mouth and call Combs Waterkotte.

Steve Waterkotte: Then we take it from there. Like I said, let the police battle in the streets. Our battles are in the courtroom. And then we try to, at that point, whoever’s the first person in contact with them is – this applies for Chris, Matt Brown, our associate. When we get them in, we want them to see this big picture. We try to provide them as much information in a way that they’ll understand. Not legalese and jargon that these folks don’t understand. Let’s look at this big picture. Let’s look at what you’re facing. And then from there, let’s understand and develop their goals. Reasonable goals based on this case, based on the evidence. And so they have the information at hand. A lot of times at that stage, you don’t have a ton. You’re waiting on the police reports.

Scott Michael Dunn: There’s so much circumstantial information.

Steve Waterkotte: We want them to know what this big picture looks like and understand their goals so we can formulate a plan to get them to that point.

Scott Michael Dunn: What’s the confidence level for communicating with your attorney? You hire an attorney, what can you tell them? Can you tell them you’re guilty?

Steve Waterkotte: I am confident in saying this. It might sound boastful or whatever. I am confident that we are the most accessible lawyers in the city. Everyone has our cell phone numbers. It may be to a fault on ourselves or to the detriment of our families. I’ve been at basketball games. I’ve been coaching my own kid, or at a gymnastics event where I’ve stepped out and answered the call. Again, they need us.

Scott Michael Dunn: Sure.

Steve Waterkotte: This isn’t a 9 to 5 gig. And so, I would put us against anybody. And again, I don’t say that in a boastful way. I’m [responding to texts]. Chris does. We have a group chat amongst the lawyers in our firm.

Just for an example, this past weekend, I was leaving town this past Thursday. We had a very serious case involving a young woman. She was locked up, and we had an all hands on deck approach as I’m leaving town. I was the lead attorney as a referral to me. Yet, I’m leaving town, back to resources. Chris and Matt and multiple members of our staff, throughout the weekend are coordinating, making jail visits to see her on a weekend, to keep her informed, talking with her father, talking with her boyfriend. We had Chris, who did a fabulous job stepping in and kind of quarterbacking that, despite the fact that I’m halfway across the country.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s just like a warm and fuzzy. I don’t think I would associate warm and fuzzy with attorneys.

Steve Waterkotte: She got outta jail yesterday. And she sent us a wonderful text saying, “Couldn’t thank your firm enough.” Because it was an all hands on deck [situation] over the course of a weekend, or even into this week until yesterday. That is why that is paramount. Number one is getting them out of jail on a reasonable bond. A bond that they can afford and post.

Scott Michael Dunn: No, let’s say they lock in, right? They pick you guys. Chris, your client walks in. Can he tell you he’s guilty? What can he say? Is he protected from what he says?

Chris Combs: Sure. Attorney-client privilege is paramount in that relationship. Unless it’s an ongoing crime we don’t have any ethical obligation other than to keep attorney-client communication private.

It’s very rare that a client’s going to say, “Hey, look, I did this. I didn’t do it.”

Scott Michael Dunn: Yeah. “Book me up.”

Chris Combs: A lot of people like to ask that question, but it just doesn’t come up. I know Steve can weigh in on this, but I gotta be honest, I don’t care. I mean, I’m here to defend someone and that’s all that matters. If they want to tell me, great. But it doesn’t matter to me, because [there’s] the United States Constitution and everyone deserves a defense.

Steve Waterkotte: I agree precisely with him. I always add, I don’t care either. That’s the most common question you get when you’re somewhere, right? Someone goes, “What do you do for work?” “I’m a criminal defense attorney.” “How can you defend those people? How can you defend somebody that you know is guilty?” Right? That’s the question that always comes up. Back to what Chris said, I don’t care. What my personal belief is about whether they did it or not has zero bearing on their case.

And furthermore, we’re not here to make moral judgments on people. Did he do it or didn’t he do it will not affect in any way, shape, or form how Chris, Matt, or myself handles a case. They could say they’re guilty. I’m going to still provide them the most vigorous defense. Maybe that might not be a trial. It might be mitigation, getting them a soft landing spot. It sounds super counterintuitive. “Don’t you need to know?” No, I don’t. I need to know what evidence they have against my client.

Scott Michael Dunn: I think there’s a big part of that, which, if you were kind of put it into perspective, is that they don’t know all the time whether or not they’re actually guilty.

They may think they’ve done something specifically that would make them categorically charged or convicted of a crime, but maybe not. So you leave that open throughout the entire process because it’s only fair to the client. Because you can’t practice to protect them from themselves, mostly, without leaving that wide open.

Steve Waterkotte: And use a DWI, for example. You’re not a human BAC, blood alcohol content reader. Those people know when they’ve hit a stage of intoxication, right? You don’t know if you’re at a .08 or not. You don’t know how you fared on the test on the side of the road. You weren’t trained in that.

That’s an example of one where somebody might be, “I had a couple drinks, but was I drunk or not?” Well, that’s where we step in and that’s when we’re looking at those police reports and, conducting our own investigation, what our defenses are.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well, you, I don’t know if you wrote this interview, but this is a great segue. I appreciate you.

As it relates to breathalyzers, blood tests – of course, shut your mouth, we’re at that stage where now we can just move forward and all of this. “Just shut your mouth.” We know that. But then should they take the breathalyzer? Should they do a blood test? What is it that they should say yes to, or can they say no?

Chris Combs: My opinion on that – and defense lawyer has a different opinion – but I would always say absolutely not. All you’re doing is providing more evidence. The only time I would ever advise anyone to submit to a blood, breath or urine test in a DWI investigation is, “I had one glass of wine at a happy hour.”

Scott Michael Dunn: And I left 15 minutes later and suddenly I’m a .086 or something silly, right?

Chris Combs: Sure. All you’re doing is providing more evidence for them.

I would say, refuse all tests. Refuse field sobriety tests. Some defense lawyers say, “Do it.” I like to pick apart the breathalyzer. I like to pick apart the cops’ investigation. But in my opinion, you’re just giving them more evidence. I’ll let Steve weigh in on that.
Steve Waterkotte: I concur with Chris. Unless you know that, “Hey, I had nothing to drink.”

Scott Michael Dunn: But nothing means like, nothing nothing. Not a single drop.

Steve Waterkotte: That’s my opinion. Correct. If I get pulled over leaving the studio and they ask for a breathalyzer, I would still decline it because I’d tell him I don’t need to do it. That’s another story. But I could take that, and I know I’m going to blow zeros across the board, that would be the only time. I agree with Chris, I think as a general rule. And that’s another question [we] get. When you’re at a cocktail function and people are drinking.

Scott Michael Dunn: “Should you blow?”

Steve Waterkotte: Right. “What do I do when I get pulled over?” I say, as a general rule, do not do it. And I agree completely with Chris. It’s just providing another piece of evidence. There’s a reason they want you to do it.

Scott Michael Dunn: But even if you blow and you’re zeros, isn’t the field sobriety [test] subjective?

Chris Combs: It is.

Scott Michael Dunn: Yeah. I would never do that.

Chris Combs: Yes. Beause there’s plenty of people who refuse to blow and then they’re still charged. So it’s just based on the officer’s observations.

Scott Michael Dunn: Oh really?

Steve Waterkotte: They’re what we call “standardized field sobriety tests.” And the typical three are the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is the pen in front of your, the fingertip.

Most folks have heard that or seen it. They’re looking at certain criteria. I get people that say, “Well I passed those.” Well, you wouldn’t know, as the subject of the field sobriety test. But every individual, you, me, Chris, we all have a choice. You’re not under any obligation to take those. Again, what are those designed to do? Provide the officer with additional evidence.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s just mounting, mounting evidence.

Chris Combs: They’re trying to build their case.

Steve Waterkotte: Now all of a sudden you have your field sobriety test, the three that I mentioned, then they get a breath test result. That can be damning evidence at that point.

Now you remove that. What are you left with? It’s what Chris said. The officer’s observations. “We smelled alcohol.” You’re removing a whole bunch of evidence that they would use against you. Much easier case to beat at that point, right? It’s kind of common sense.
Scott Michael Dunn: You say that you deny to participate in any of these things. You’re gonna get arrested, right?

Steve Waterkotte: The question then is, would you get arrested after doing those?

Scott Michael Dunn: Well, yeah.

Steve Waterkotte: And so again, let’s balance the two.

Okay. Arrest me. You’re going to be arrested after the field sobriety if you’ve been drinking or you’re in an intoxicated condition. So, you’re getting arrested either way. Now you’re just removing the strength of the state’s case and the police officer’s arrest.
Chris Combs: The second a traffic stop turns into a DWI investigation, that’s when you just need to say, “If you believe that I’m under the influence. Go ahead and take me into custody.”

Scott Michael Dunn: Book me, right. I’ll get out of the car when I’m arrested.

Chris Combs: Sure. Some of this stuff is hard to do sober. Try standing on one leg with your foot six inches off the ground for ten seconds.

Steve Waterkotte: And speaking of what Chris said, there’s so many clients that will say that. “Dude, I couldn’t do this sober.” Well, that very statement – think about this. That very statement just says that you’ve been drinking. But how many people say that?

Chris Combs: So many.

Steve Waterkotte: They go, “I couldn’t do this sober, officer.” Ok, so you’re not sober right now?

Scott Michael Dunn: I don’t study Tai Chi. So I’m not doing the whole six inch off the ground thing. I don’t do that.

Steve Waterkotte: I was pulled over one time. I’ll give you an example. It’s a true story. Pulled over, had not been drinking. My wife and I [were] driving home, just got off a long plane ride, trying to get home to see my daughter, who was an infant at the time, before she went to bed.

I had nothing to drink, but I’m jet lagged, it’s been a long weekend, I’m at the airport. He asked if I would do a field sobriety test. True story, on the side of 55. Again, it’s been a long weekend, I’m jet lagged. No, I won’t, but I’ll blow into a PBT.

He looked at me immediately and goes, “Are you a police officer or an attorney?” Because I knew PBT, which is “portable breath test,” and I knew that would read zeros. But again, I had nothing to drink at the airport. I just was on a four hour flight. I don’t want to be on the side of the road, tired, and putting my leg in the air if I can maintain it in this position.

Like Chris said, these tests are designed, and they’re difficult.

Chris Combs: Sure. And sometimes they throw odd ones out. Like count backward from 86 to 72. Or go backwards in the alphabet from C to W, you know?

Steve Waterkotte: It’s not natural for somebody to go walking heel to toe, right? How often – you don’t do that, do you?

Scott Michael Dunn: I never do that. Actually, I’m never going to do that.

Steve Waterkotte: How often do you practice with one leg on the ground and one in the air?

Scott Michael Dunn: I don’t take Tai Chi. I’m not doing that.

Steve Waterkotte: Or your finger on your nose. Or following this over here. These aren’t natural movements.

Scott Michael Dunn: I would ask – I’d like to see the pen. If it’s a nice pen, I’d consider it. Because if it’s a cheap pen, grabbed it from a poker table at your buddy’s house. I’m not into that. I’m not following that pen.

Steve Waterkotte: So again, it shows you that I was completely sober. He didn’t give me the PBT and he cut me loose.

Scott Michael Dunn: He was like, “This is a waste of time.”

Steve Waterkotte: Again, I’d be over there on the side of the road, and I probably would fail the damn thing.

Scott Michael Dunn: So the key is to take into account, what do you do when you’re getting possible a DWI, more than likely not, or possibly so. Don’t be afraid to get arrested.

Chris Combs: And that’s a huge thing because people are intimidated by police naturally.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well [people] get intimidated by being arrested, period. Put cuffs on me. You’re gonna put me in the back of a police car. I feel like my life’s already starting to end. At that point, I get put in the back of blue.
Chris Combs: Sure, but by cooperating, you’re helping them build their case. You’re giving them evidence. Again, it sounds counterintuitive, but, back to “Shut up,” right?

Scott Michael Dunn: Yeah, shut up and let them arrest you.

Chris Combs: Sure.

Scott Michael Dunn: Just go in, because then, you go in and then you go home and they’ve got no evidence and they’ve got no talkie talkie to push buttons and create cases. Then they call you guys and then it’s over.

If you need Missouri’s leading criminal defense team to defend your rights and freedom, speak to a criminal defense attorney today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online for a free case review.