Facing a criminal charge can be a life-changing experience. The innocent are sometimes arrested and convicted. Words are twisted and used as evidence of guilt. Prosecutors routinely charge more serious offenses than the crimes that were actually committed. A California criminal defense lawyer at Arshakyan Law can help suspects protect themselves from an unjust conviction. Following a few simple rules can mean the difference between freedom and prison.
1. What to Do When You Are Questioned by the Police
The police question individuals for one of two reasons. If they view the individual as a witness, they want to get information. If they view the individual as a suspect, they want to get a confession — or at least an incriminating statement that they can use as proof of guilt.
Unfortunately, when people are questioned by the police, they don’t always know whether they are being viewed as a witness or a suspect. For that matter, the police don’t always know. The police might start an interview believing that an individual is a witness, but the answers they receive might make them regard the individual as a suspect.
If the police decide to question you, they have no obligation to tell you whether you are a witness or a suspect. You can ask, but they have no obligation to tell you the truth.
If the police are asking you about something you saw or heard and you had no involvement in the incident, it is reasonable to assume that you are a witness, not a suspect. There is nothing wrong with helping the police by telling them what you know, as long as you committed no crime and the police have no reason to think you did. Take care to answer questions truthfully and be prepared to stop if the questions begin to suggest that the officers view you as a suspect or believe you are not giving honest answers to their questions.
Exercise your right to remain silent
If you were involved in wrongdoing and the police question you, the only response you should give is: “I will not answer any questions unless I have a lawyer present.” You always have the right to remain silent if you might be suspected of a crime. Your rights cannot protect you if you do not use them. If the police threaten to arrest you unless you cooperate, don’t change your response. They’re probably going to arrest you anyway.
If you were not involved in wrongdoing but the questions suggest that the police think you might have been involved, err on the side of caution and politely refuse to answer any questions unless you have a lawyer present. If you answer questions, you risk being misinterpreted. Many innocent people have gone to jail because their words were used against them in court. Refusing to answer questions deprives the police and prosecutors of that ammunition.
Some people make the mistake of believing their statements cannot be used against them if they have not received a Miranda warning. In fact, the police only need to warn suspects of their right to remain silent if they intend to question a suspect who is in custody. A suspect is usually not in custody until after an arrest has occurred.
The police prefer to question suspects before they are arrested because they are not required to warn the suspect about the right to remain silent. They can still use a suspect’s statements as evidence even in the absence of that warning if the suspect is not in custody. Refusing to answer questions is only way to avoid being haunted by those answers in court.
Never Lie to the Police
Few people can talk their way out of an arrest. People are much more likely to talk themselves into being arrested for obstructing an investigation by lying to the police.
Remember, it is not a crime for the police to lie to you. It is a crime for you to lie to the police. That isn’t fair, but it is reality. It is much better to remain silent than to lie to a police officer. Your silence cannot be used against you. A false statement can lead to a criminal conviction.
2. What to Do If You Are Arrested
If the police want to arrest you, don’t struggle. If you resist arrest, you’ll be charged with another crime. You’ll also make yourself look guilty when the jury hears that you did not comply with the officer’s commands. Go peacefully but continue to exercise your right to remain silent.
At the police station, you will probably be booked. That means you will be fingerprinted and photographed. A police officer will ask you “booking questions” about your identity, your address, your next of kin, whether you have tattoos, your medical needs, and similar information. It’s fine to answer those questions unless an answer would incriminate you. For example, if you are asked about the drugs you take and you are taking prescription drugs without a prescription, you should refuse to answer without having a lawyer present.
The police may try to interrogate you, but they should first warn you that you have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning. When they ask you “With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak with me?,” just say “No.” Don’t worry that saying no will make you look guilty. Juries are not allowed to hear that you exercised your right to remain silent after being given a Miranda warning.
Contact a lawyer
One of the rights the police will mention is the right to have an attorney present during questioning. In California, an arrested individual must be allowed to make three free local telephone calls no later than three hours after the arrest: to an attorney, to a bail bondsman, and to a family member. If you have an attorney, call the attorney first. If you don’t have an attorney, call a family member who can arrange to hire an attorney on your behalf. Don’t talk about the facts leading to the arrest to anyone other than your attorney.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to release on bail before going to court. If the police tell you that you are eligible for release, you may want to call a bail bondsman unless your family member or lawyer has done that for you.
3. What to Do If You Are Charged with a Crime
If you have not yet been arrested, you may receive a Summons that notifies you of a criminal charge and an upcoming court date. If you are arrested and released, you will be given a court date. Either way, use the time before your court appearance to meet with a lawyer. In addition to giving you legal advice about dealing with the charge, a lawyer can begin to investigate the facts while memories are still fresh.
If you were arrested and not released, you will receive a bail hearing. Contact a lawyer as soon as you can so that the lawyer can prepare an argument for your release on bail. If you appear in court without a lawyer, tell the court that you want a lawyer before you make any decisions about the case.
The right to be represented by a lawyer is the most important right in a criminal prosecution. Having an experienced lawyer can make the difference between a fair outcome and an unjust sentence.