People are accused of a crime every day. Some people are guilty. Some are innocent. Some are in a “gray area.” Many folks think that only “criminals” are accused of crimes or “it will never happen to me.” The truth is that it can happen to anyone. I have seen people of almost every age, race, level of wealth, level of power, political affiliation, reputation, career, and gender accused and arrested for a variety of crimes. If this happens to you, it is critical that the following rules be followed:
1. Don’t Say Or Do Anything Less is more. Anything you say (and sometimes do) can and usually will be used against you. If a law enforcement officer pulls you over on the road and wants you to perform field sobriety tests, arrives at your door asking questions about what you may have done, or asks that you come to the station for an interview, you must be respectful and relax. Politely decline the officer’s request for you to take part in field sobriety tests (they are always voluntary), do not try to explain what may have happened, or agree to an interview. On some occasions, an interview may be beneficial, but you must have your lawyer present.
It is a rare day when someone talks their way out of being arrested. A common misconception I hear in the context of conversations with officers is that “they didn’t read me my rights.” Well, an officer doesn’t have to advise you of your Miranda rights unless you are being questioned while in custody. This usually takes place after you have been arrested and are being questioned in a room at the police station. Agreeing to an interview without your lawyer present while in custody is perhaps the worst decision you can make when accused of a crime.
Don’t talk with anyone else about “your side of the story.” Your statements to others, with the exception of your lawyer, can be used against you later. This includes, but not limited to, face to face conversations, jail calls, email, Facebook, and other social media.
2. Find A Criminal Defense Attorney The minute you find out that you are being accused of a crime, make an appointment with a criminal defense attorney. Choose an attorney you are comfortable with, trust, and know is experienced. Your conversations with your attorney are protected under the attorney-client privilege. He or she must know everything; good and bad. Those who lie to their attorney or withhold information, make their attorney’s work meaningless and a waste of time. This further makes a bad situation worse. By providing accurate information, the attorney can provide a level of protection throughout the ordeal. Some of those protections include: a. Speaking with the Investigating Officer -- If the criminal defense attorney has a good professional relationship with the officer, the attorney may be able to help in several ways. Some of these include increasing the chances of getting a bond, obtaining the officer’s perspective of what may have happened, and/or providing the officer with your perspective regarding the allegations; b. Gathering Evidence – Some situations require the services of a skilled private investigator, polygraph examiner, accident reconstructionist, or other expert. These team members can be invaluable at the beginning of an investigation in select cases; and c. Negotiating with Prosecutors – Negotiation is never an act of weakness if done properly. For instance, if the accusation lacks credible evidence, your attorney may be able to get the charges dropped, reduced, modified, etc.
Being accused of any crime unleashes several emotions. Fear is probably the greatest. But, controlling your fear and knowing what to do and not do can make all the difference in the end.