I match the description of a criminal at large - what should I do?
April 13, 2021 11:29 PM   Subscribe

In my community, fairly close to where I live, a driver killed a bicyclist and drove away. The limited information happens to coincidentally match my car - the partial license plate almost matches my car, and the (few) details of the color, size, type, and condition of the offender's car match my car. The details are sufficiently generic and broad that I can imagine multiple cars match. For instance, no make or model of the car is known - just the size and type of car. It still seems too much of a match for me not to be worried someone might see my car and call the police. I am absolutely certain no one took my car. Should I do anything about this coincidental match? Should I do anything to ensure I am not considered a suspect?

I am a white male and am privileged not to worry about police brutality. I can conceivably afford a lawyer for consultation, but would prefer to avoid spending the money if I could reasonably avoid it.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't borrow trouble. If the police want to get in touch, they will. They are not going to "dragnet" a couple of communities for similar-looking cars. They know there are just too many of them. So what if someone calls the police? There are probably dozens more of them within a 25-mile radius.
posted by kschang at 12:50 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Your car matches the description of a car that (I assume) physically struck a cyclist and left the scene. If a car makes that sort of contact with a cyclist, chances are that paint will be transferred from the car to the bike/cyclist, or vise versa, and the car will have some damage (front end, or sideswipe). Since your car doesn’t have such damage, I wouldn’t worry about it.
posted by SillyShepherd at 3:25 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]

OP says that their car matches the "condition" of the offender's car, which implies that there's something noteworthy about the condition of their car. (i.e. rust, body damage, missing parts, aftermarket mods or accessories.) What I would NOT do is change anything about your car, as that has the possibility of appearing that you're concealing your involvement. If there is indeed body damage on your car, if you have any documentation of that (accident report, photo of the car dated before the hit and run that shows the damage predates that) it wouldn't be the worst thing to have those handy. Worst case scenario, someone calls it in, you get pulled over or a knock on the door, the police impound your car, check it for the cyclist's DNA/ paint transfer and you eventually get it back when you're cleared. That sounds like no fun but you'll be OK.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:31 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer, not your lawyer and not in the USA or a USA citizen. I, too, look like I deserve all the privilege that society affords: cis/het/white/male/educated, but someone was killed and there's still a sense that we need to make right on it. As a result, the following is offered in good faith that you were not involved in this tragic loss of life.

I agree with kschang -- don't raise it. If they come to you, have answers ready to their queries to free them up to pursue other avenues. Don't worry about whether you 'look guilty', worry about furthering this search for justice for the family and cycling community who have lost one of their people.

* While the detail is fresh in your mind, make some notes of what you did on the day in question with their times if you can.
* Find some people to corroborate an alibi. Your phone might have tracked your location, so check its history to show it and you weren't nearby.
* You may also want photos of your vehicle that it is not damaged, both before and after you've cleaned it.
* Take note of this discussion and the action you took in response in case you also need to refer it to a lawyer.

The USA ACLU has a guide for what to expect when encountering law enforcement. Other guides emerge when you do a web search for 'don't talk to cops'. Depending on your levels of paranoia you may elect to search via a non-tracking provider like duckduckgo.com in a private web-browsing window -- in case private companies sell your profile data to the police.
posted by k3ninho at 5:57 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]

Can you go to a dealership/reputable garage for an oil change so you will have a third party witness that the car is undamaged?
posted by saucysault at 6:21 AM on April 14

I wouldn't do a single thing except make your own notes on where you were and what you were doing that night, just in case this becomes an issue somehow. Most especially I wouldn't wash the car or do anything else to the car. If the car has three months of dirt on it yet is not dented or touched in a way that it would be if it had killed a cyclist, that's a lot more obviously exonerating than something that's recently been cleaned.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:03 AM on April 14 [11 favorites]

Take photos of the car asap and, as others have noted, get your facts straight on the day in questions, with witnesses, credit card receipts, etc.
posted by sudogeek at 7:17 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Where were you when it happened? If you can, document your whereabouts, so that if anyone does question you, you'll have the facts.
posted by theora55 at 8:45 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Hi, I am not a lawyer, but I am married to a criminal defense attorney practicing in the USA.

Yes go ahead and document document document, then don't worry and don't talk about it.

If the police show up:

"Hi I heard about that accident, it sounds awful. I have a lawyer who handles all my legal stuff please give me your info and I will have them call you."

Do not make any statements without an attorney present. Not a single one.

Not going to debate about the issues with American policing writ large, but consider this "best case" scenario for your community:

There are many people in law enforcement, (police, detectives, prosecuting attorneys) who are honest and take their duty to the community very seriously, and will work tirelessly to get justice for someone senselessly killed. They have shouldered the burden of protecting everyone in the future from this driver causing harm again.
There's never a perfect trail of evidence, things will be confusing, but they will do their best, with even with limited and incomplete facts, to identify the most likely suspect and build a successful case against them. While they might find it distasteful, police and detectives are allowed to lie to suspects and witnesses and they may do so to get all information they can. Due to our adversarial legal system, prosecutors will expect even a guilty suspect to mount a vigorous defense claiming they had nothing to do with the killing. The prosecutors are rewarded within their departments for getting convictions.

Think about that paragraph for a moment.

This is not a blanket "all cops are bad" argument - huge systemic problems exist yes but I've called the cops when needed to protect myself or others from harm, to report various times my stuff or my company's equipment was stolen, or when I witnessed assault and battery, etc.

But you can still be a helpful witness with a lawyer. And you might assume you are a witness, while cops think you are a suspect, and they have no reason to correct your assumption. What a misunderstanding!

In fact having legal representation (as long as they are good) will help you help the police - you know you didn't do it, so any time or resources spent investigating you is time the police are not using to find the real perpetrator.

I find that "lawyer up" is very common refrain in AskMe answers, often excessive? Perhaps meant to take the side of the Asker against a cruel world and encourage them to get tough and stand up! I just did it in an earlier answer today. And if this was a minor theft at a candy store - maybe don't worry about it. But loss of life... the stakes are higher here.
posted by sol at 10:22 AM on April 14 [13 favorites]

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