Don’t do these 5 things!
I have been practicing law for 27 years and so often when I get involved in a new criminal matter, I realize that not everyone has the background or understanding about how to handle a criminal charge.
Criminal charges can be devastating to everyone around you
Let’s face it, some criminal charges are more devastating than others. Some people handle dealing with the courts in a stress-free manner, while others are so stressed out they tell me they feel like they are losing their mind. Of course, if you are charged with a serious felony that is one thing. If you are charged with a misdemeanor traffic situation that’s a totally different animal. However, as many clients tell me, even a small charge can have devastating effects in a person’s life because of employment, licenses and sometimes traffic points.
Over the years I have developed methods and I have trained lawyers that work for me how to approach different types of cases and criminal charges. There is no complete set of specific answers because each case differs. However, I have come up with an overall "top 5 things not to do" that seem to occur again and again when people are charged with a criminal matter. Here is a generic list of some steps and actions that you should absolutely not do when you learn you are being investigated or charged with a crime. Some of the "things not to do" may include some pointers as to how to proceed.
1. Never speak to the police
There are rare exceptions but this is a mistake that the majority of people make when charged with a crime. Depending upon the nature of the criminal alleged act, detectives and police will make valiant efforts to try to question you as a criminal defendant before a criminal defense lawyer does. The name of the game is who gets to you first!
Most people when confronted by authority such as a police officers, detectives, federal agents, or even an administrative worker such as a social service agent, will become scarred or "get foggy" and not think correctly because they are either stunned or shocked that they are in this position. Their first thought is that they can talk their way out of the situation. In other words, many people feel that if they can just explained to the police my side of the story they will be convinced and this will go no further. I can tell you from my decades of experience that most detectives and police are extremely well-trained about how to extract information from you. I would estimate that the majority of convictions in this country stem from words spoken right out of the defendant’s mouth. That’s because once you admit to the crime then everything evidentiary stems from that. It can’t be taken back.
As difficult as it is, no matter what the situation I advised people not to speak to the police until they have talked to an attorney. This may sound easier than it actually is. Most people want to believe that the police have their best interests at heart. I’m certainly not saying that police officers are bad people because I believe just the opposite. However, they do a job and most of them believed that a person being questioned about a crime is highly culpable related to that issue. In other words, you can’t talk your way out of it. No matter what you do it is unlikely that you will be able to convince them that you didn’t "do the deed!".
Being in that situation with police can be very awkward because most people don’t like confrontation and detectives will use many means and tactics to try to pressure or coerce you into admitting what allegedly occurred. Even if you don’t actually admit to committing a crime what you say to the police during an interrogation can have dramatic effect upon their ability to convict you or prosecute. Here is a brief list of some of the tactics used to entice individuals to admit to a crime by police.
Shock and awe – Police may arrive at your house or place of business and totally surprise you at an unexpected time. They may put you in a compromising position in front of your family or others and you feel as if you have no other way to handle the situation except to admit to what they want you to say. This tactic often occurs at unusual hours of the day such as early morning or late at night. The entire goal is to catch you off-balance.
Coerce you into admitting something because of family members or friends – A good example of this is when police come to a home early in the morning because they believes someone in the home has possession of child pornography or some other contraband. A tactic and statement they may say to you is something like, "someone had to possess this contraband and if it is not you then it must be someone in your family or a friend in the home". We will have to charge them. This puts you in a situation where you feel as though you have no choice but to admit to what they’re asking you to talk about.
We won’t lock you up today if you talk to us – Another tactic used is that the police will indicate to you that we won’t lock you up today if you are cooperative and truthful with us. This put you in a situation where many people are scared to death and will say whatever the police want you to say.
We know anyway so you might as well tell us – This is a common tactic used by police to try to trick individuals into admitting something that may not be completely correct. What most people don’t realize is that police are in fact allowed to lie, exaggerate, stretch and fabricate facts in order to get you to admit to a crime.
2. Never destroy text, social media or other evidence
Of course, every situation depends upon the facts. But in general, one someone finds out they are being investigated or charged with a crime, their first instinct is to get rid of any connection to other individuals or the scenario itself. A good example is a sex offense case where a person may be accused of having an improper sexual relationship with another. Many people automatically delete any conversations, contacts or other communications with that person because they believe that it will incriminate them. A lawyer can ever tell anyone to get rid of evidence in any type of criminal case because it is improper and immoral.
However, I’ve seen many situations where individuals do in fact keep electronic information such as text, social media or other forms of communication through various apps and it has totally exonerated them. Many times individuals don’t believe or understand how that information can in fact exonerate them but it is better for a lawyer to sift through that information to make that determination.
We have all heard it before, that if you are being investigated or charged with a crime you should contact a lawyer ASAP. But I have to tell you, that the majority of successful cases stem from how and when criminal defendants obtained legal counsel. If the police get a hold of you first, many times it’s too late by the time a criminal defense lawyer gets involved. It is imperative that you contact legal counsel no matter what time of day it so he/she can determine where you stand. A competent criminal defense lawyer can help you immensely.
4. Never run from the law
It’s obvious isn’t it? If you know you are being charged with a crime it’s a waste of time and could cause you very serious problems if you put your head in the sand and just try to avoid being picked up. There are many methods lawyers can use to help individuals handle a situation prior to a trial or having to turn themselves in. An experienced trial lawyer can meet with you immediately and make contact with the police as well as the states attorney’s office to set up an easy way to turn yourself in. The entire goal would be to get you turned in, be seen by commissioner and/or Judge and get back out. That’s when the real work and "fun" begins so to speak, because you have to buckle down and prepare for trial. After all, the goal is to win and be successful.
5. If you are locked up waiting for trial don’t speak to anyone about your case
I can’t tell you how many times individuals who are in a local lockup or in federal prison waiting for a trial date speak to other individuals in jail about their situation. Even when defendants know that phone calls home are being recorded they still talk about their case. Most of the county and federal prosecutors have methodologies to listen specifically to every phone call and discussion between the defendant and people outside. In fact, many prosecutions use evidence against defendants based upon these conversations.
People don’t understand how devastating and easy it is for the state or federal government to twist words in a conversation on the phone into what they want a jury or judge to believe. I have seen many situations where people on the outside mention a particular situation and the defendant doesn’t respond or is quiet. Sometimes it can be used against them because he did not "rebut" what the person said. That is looked upon legally as an "admission against interest because of silence".
Defendants are usually scared and want to talk to someone about their situation while there are locked up pending their case. Many times they will write letters or speak to other inmates. If you write a letter do not mention anything about the case. It can be devastating because letters and phone calls can be used against you. Even other inmates are questioned about what you did or didn’t say to them. Many times these inmates will testify against you later at trial. Be very careful.
In sum, although there are many more issues that would need to be discussed between you and your attorney please take particular note with the above 5 items if you are charged or being investigated with a crime.