Do I have to talk to the police?
One of the most common questions I receive as a criminal defense lawyer is whether or not you should talk to the police. Almost every day I get a phone call from someone who just found out that the police are looking for them or want to ask them questions, and they want to know what to do. Many people think they either have to go give a statement or that they will help themselves by giving a statement. That is almost always the wrong answer. I have defended thousands of cases, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times that a client has helped themselves by giving a statement.
When I get this question, my advice is almost always the same: if the police are looking for you or want to talk to you, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before you talk to the officer. Only a criminal defense lawyer can evaluate your circumstances and help you avoid doing something to make the situation worse. The consequences of a criminal arrest and conviction can be life-changing. Given the overwhelming power of the government and almost unlimited resources of the police and prosecutor, there is very little room for error when dealing with a potential criminal prosecution. I have represented countless clients who would not have even been arrested had they not made an incriminating statement under the belief that it would help their situation. Many people think that they will be able to talk themselves out of trouble or that the police officer will understand. That is almost never the case. Therefore, I always advise anyone who asks that they should talk to a criminal defense lawyer first.
Why are the police looking for me?
If you are a potential suspect in a crime, there are generally two reasons why the police may be looking for you and would come to your house or call you on the phone. First, it is possible that the officer has already obtained a warrant for your arrest. Second, the officer may still be investigating the case and would like to interview you in order to obtain potentially incriminating evidence. It does not matter in which case you find yourself. If the police want to talk to you, you need to speak with a criminal defense lawyer before you agree to an interview with a police officer. This is true even if you believe that you have not done anything illegal.
In the first situation, if the police have a warrant for your arrest, they may come to your house or call your family members in order to find you and execute the arrest warrant. If they are having trouble finding you or you are not home when they come out to the house, the officers often may not reveal that they have already obtained a warrant for fear that you will take off or attempt to destroy evidence before they can find you. In many cases, you or your family will simply be told that they want you to come down to the station to answer some questions and clear things up. However, this does not mean that they have not already obtained an arrest warrant. For this reason, you should always consult with an attorney before agreeing to give any kind of statement. An attorney will often be able to verify that the police have obtained a warrant and arrange for you to turn yourself in so that there are no dangerous incidents with the police. Most importantly, once the police know that you have retained an attorney for that particular matter, they cannot question you and attempt to elicit incriminating statements. In many cases, an unhelpful statement is the difference between going to jail and avoiding prosecution altogether.
Should I talk to the police without a lawyer?
For this reason, if the police have a warrant or are looking for you, you should not make any statements because those statements will be used against you in court. Instead, you should contact an attorney who can verify that a warrant exists and make arrangements for you to turn yourself in. In addition to making sure that the police do not attempt to interrogate you, there are other significant benefits to retaining counsel and turning yourself in.
Do I need a lawyer for preliminary arraignment?
When you retain a criminal lawyer and turn yourself in, the magistrate is likely to set bail at a lower amount a the preliminary arraignment because the fact that you retained counsel and voluntarily turned yourself in shows that you are not a flight risk and are prepared to answer to the charges. On the other hand, if you fail to turn yourself in, the prosecutor may argue that you are a flight risk and seek higher bail. At trial, the prosecutor may ask for a flight instruction in which the judge will tell the jury that flight could be construed by the members of the jury as consciousness of guilt. Therefore, if you believe that you are under investigation or learn that the police have obtained a warrant, you should always retain an attorney before turning yourself in or giving any kind of statement.
The second situation occurs when the police are still in the investigatory stage of the case. They may view you as a suspect, but they may feel that they do not yet have enough evidence to bring formal criminal charges. Given the fact that there are thousands of state and federal criminal statutes and the fact that many people who face criminal prosecution are actually innocent, it is entirely possible for you to be a suspect in a crime and fully believe that you have not done anything wrong. Given the number of criminal statutes, it is easily possible to violate a criminal law without even knowing that the law existed. Even in cases where you believe you have not committed a crime, it is best to consult with an attorney first in order to avoid any misunderstandings or saying anything that could implicate you in the crime.
Do I need an attorney if I have not been charged yet?
If the investigation is still ongoing, it is possible that the police could view you as a suspect when you are only a witness, and an attorney may be able to take proactive steps to clear up any misunderstandings before it is too late and the police file charges. Likewise, you may not know what information the police already have, and you could say something incriminating due to faulty memory, embarrassment, or by contradicting other solid evidence that they have by accident. Even if you tell the complete truth, it is entirely possible for the officer to make an error in typing up the statement or misunderstand what is said, and that error could be used against you at a later date. Criminal investigations and charges are extremely serious, and the stakes are too high to simply give a statement without the advice of counsel.
The most important thing to remember is that if the police have enough evidence to charge you, you are never going to talk yourself out of it. The most you can say is that you did not do it, and they are not likely to believe you. If they do not have enough evidence to charge you, then you do not want to help them collect that evidence by giving an incriminating statement. If you have indisputable proof of an alibi, then your attorney can turn that over without you having to make a statement. Further, if the police really want to talk to you, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you obtain something valuable in exchange such as immunity for cooperation or a reduced charge or sentence in exchange for the statement. An attorney will be able to get a promise in writing and it will be binding, whereas promises the police make to you are not necessarily enforceable in court. Likewise, your attorney may be able to arrange for an off-the-record proffer session in which the statement cannot be used against you as substantive in court unless you later testify to something different at trial.
Due to recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court, simply remaining silent is not always the best way to protect your rights. You should always assert that you would like to speak with an attorney before being questioned. It is always best to consult with a criminal defense attorney so that you can protect your constitutional rights before having any interaction with law enforcement. It is easy to accidentally waive important rights, and once they are waived, it is not always possible to undo the damage.
A PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE LAWYER CAN HELP
If the police are looking for you or you may be the subject of a criminal investigation, you need to speak with one of our criminal defense lawyers. We can help advise you on whether it makes sense to give a statement or whether you should assert your Fifth Amendment rights. In most cases, you will be better off remaining silent. In every case, you should invoke your right to remain silent until you have spoken with one of our criminal defense attorneys. Call 267-225-2545 today for a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session.