"What to do if the police want to question you for a criminal investigation"
Immediately call the right lawyer!
Most of our clients contact MacDowell Law Group, P.C. after being charged with a criminal offense. But, we also represent people who are contacted by the police before they are charged with a crime, who are wondering whether or not they should talk with a police officer or detective about an investigation or alleged crime.
At this critical stage, you should immediately contact an experienced lawyer, before meeting with the police, and before making any statement to the police.
The lawyers at MacDowell Law Group, P.C. have helped numerous people through this important stage in the investigation. A good defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and options, seek to minimize any further damage to your position, and work to try to avoid criminal charges being filed against you.
This stage, prior to being charged, often offers the suspect the greatest opportunity to positively affect your overall case.
Why do the police really want to talk with you?
Often by the time the police want to talk with you, they have already formed a suspicion that you are (or were) involved in a crime. In these situations, the police are likely just looking for evidence to link you to a crime, or they are looking for more direct evidence to make their case stronger. Either way, what you say can and often, will be, used against you later in court.
Sometimes, even though the police have enough evidence to charge you, they have not yet pressed charges, because they want you to talk about other people involved or other crimes. If this is the case, talking with an attorney is still a smart move, so that you know your legal rights and options. A general rule of thumb is that if the police already had enough actual evidence to charge you with a crime, they would be serving you with an Arrest Warrant or Summons, rather than asking you for information about what happened.
“But, the officer sounded nice...”
The police may try to put you at ease, to encourage you to talk with them. For example, an officer may tell you he is “interested to hear your side of the story,” or she is “just trying to finish her report to close out a matter.” An officer will likely be polite and non-threatening by saying “you aren't under arrest” and “this'll just take a few minutes.” The officer wants you to feel at ease and creates an almost friendly relationship to encourage you to speak with them.
Realize that a strategic, skilled officer will avoid creating a “custodial” situation, by asking (not ordering) you to meet with him, and by saying “you're free to go at any time.” Here's why! By staying away from a “custody” environment, the police legally avoid their obligation to read you Miranda rights (which expressly remind people they can choose to say nothing, that their answers can & will be used against them in court, and that they have a lawyer present for any police questioning). If reminded of these rights, many people will choose to exercise them and not make any statement, which frustrates an officer's desire to get incriminating information.
Most law enforcement officers are good, honest people. But regardless of what may be in their hearts and minds, the police have a job: to try to prevent, detect, and solve crimes. And towards these goals, the police have complete discretion to lie or mislead anyone they talk with. At MacDowell Law Group, P.C., we have seen multiple cases where a detective claims falsely to have evidence against a suspect (for example, “an eyewitness saw you” or “here is a DNA report that proves you were there”). A detective may claim this is the “last chance to try to help yourself” by talking with him. In fact, a good detective will usually welcome a later meeting to learn more about a case, even with a lawyer present with you at the meeting. Under the law, an officer is permitted to claim “this is off the record” or “this is only between you and me,” and then later to use your words against you in court. The courts have expressly stated that police can use “bluffing” techniques, and even lie to suspects, to solve crimes.
Know your rights
The police serve an important role by patrolling our community and investigating crimes, and in doing so, they talk with the community. Many people feel that if that they don't talk with the police, the police will assume they are guilty. This logic is a fallacy, and contrary to our laws. You have inalienable rights! The U.S. and Virginia Constitutions clearly give us certain protections, but you can waive these rights if not careful. You have the right to not answer police questions. You have to right to not explain yourself to the police. You have the right to talk with a lawyer before deciding whether to talk with the police. In a courtroom, it is improper for a prosecutor or law enforcement to use your earlier silence against you.
Depending on that facts and circumstances of your situation, you may have other applicable rights and options, and talking first with a good defense lawyer will improve your understanding of these. Of course, having certain rights does not mean you can act anyway you want when interacting with police. If the police give you a lawful order, it is usually best to obey the order. If the police have a written criminal charge to serve on you, it is generally advisable to accept such written charge, rather than flee or resist. When telling the police that you do not want to discuss a matter, you should be firm, clear, and always polite.
What can a defense lawyer do to help?
- A lawyer can speak for you to the police, to clearly invoke your rights, and help you avoid the uncomfortable scenario where the police may try to change your mind or elicit an answer from you.
- A lawyer gives you a chance to speak in strict privacy about the legal problem, under the protection of attorney-client confidentiality.
- A lawyer is your advocate, working to give you advice in your favor with the goal of protecting your liberty, reputational, and financial interests.
- A lawyer can seek to learn more about the allegations against you, assess the situation, and in certain cases even talk with a prosecutor before charges are filed.
- A lawyer can advise you what evidence the police may be looking for, and how your words and answers could incriminate you.
- A lawyer can explain why a lie-detector (polygraph) test may be inadvisable, despite the detective assuring you the results are not admissible in court.
- A lawyer can explain to you how a seemingly innocent statement (or even a denial) by a suspect can backfire and become a source of evidence against you in court.
But, there are limits. To be fair, no defense lawyer has the power to prevent the police from charging you with a crime. And, no lawyer can force the police to disclose details of an on-going investigation. If any particular lawyer promises you these things, run away! These are false promises-- who knows what else they are making up.
Call the criminal defense lawyers of MacDowell Law Group, P.C., before talking with the police
“You can't unring a bell.” In other words, it's difficult to forget information once it has been made known. Once you say something to the police, it cannot be “un-said” or simply forgotten. Sure, evidence taken in violation of one's rights might possibly be excluded later by a trial judge (if all the facts and legal issues go in your favor). But, why risk that? Before you talk with any law enforcement, first call an experienced defense attorney. If the police want to talk with you, first call MacDowell Law Group, P.C. at 703-277-2811.
*The information provided in this brief article is for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute providing legal advice. Proper legal advice is given only after an attorney communicates with a client or prospective client about a legal matter, so that the attorney can apply relevant law to your specific facts and circumstances. The above suggestions may or may not be appropriate for your specific legal situation. It is best to take action and make legal decisions only after having a private consultation with an attorney. Please contact an experienced attorney at MacDowell Law Group, PC, to discuss the full extent of your rights and responsibilities.*
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