Being suspected of a crime by law enforcement is one of the most stressful events an individual can experience, especially if that person is innocent. Depending on the nature of the suspected crime and seriousness of the potential charges, the police will turn someone’s life upside down in pursuit of what they believe to be the truth. What’s more, the police are not required to alert an individual as to the extent of their suspicions, at least not until they choose to make an arrest, which can put people in incredibly vulnerable positions in terms of their ability to avoid criminal charges.
If you believe you are under investigation by law enforcement, it’s imperative to do the right thing at the right time to prevent being charged with a crime you didn’t commit. While the police will always tell you the right thing to do is to comply with all of their requests, the truth is a bit more complicated. Luckily, we’ve outlined the basics for what to do if under investigation by law enforcement:
The police are experts at getting people to talk. If you are a suspect in a crime, it’s unlikely they will tell you right away. They want you to open up about anything and everything. This is why lawyers always tell you to remain silent. Under no circumstances is it ever helpful to talk to the police without an attorney present. Even if you are simply talking about the weather, investigators may infer suspicions from your statements. If the interview is being recorded on audio and video, seemingly innocuous utterances can be later played back in court and sound like the words of a guilty individual. While law enforcement will always describe a person’s decision to not talk as being highly suspicious in and of itself, such short-term elevations in their interest are worth the benefits of not giving them anything to use against you in court.
Find a Lawyer
Many people under investigation for suspected criminal activity wait until they are formally charged before getting a lawyer. The truth is they should have hired one as soon as they were contacted by the police. Generally speaking, those under investigation want a lawyer with experience in the jurisdiction where the crime allegedly occurred and charges would be filed. For example, someone being investigated by the Little Rock Police Department should hire an Arkansas criminal defense attorney with offices in the state capital. While a big out-of-state law firm will also get the job done, they’ll probably charge three-to-four times as much while providing identical guidance and service and overseeing the same outcome.
Your defense lawyer will be the first to tell you the fifth amendment doesn’t equate to a right to lie and deceive. If you choose to speak with law enforcement regarding any aspect of your life, it’s imperative to be truthful at all times. Lying to the police – even if it’s in an attempt to prove your true innocence – never makes the situation better. It almost always makes things worse for someone suspected of committing a crime. This is why, for the most part, individuals under investigation are always encouraged to avoid speaking to law enforcement without their attorney present.
People innocent of the original crime can still be charged with obstruction of justice. As former FBI director James Comey recently said in an interview, requiring someone to be guilty of the initial offense in order to be charged with obstruction would only further incentivize them to interfere with an ongoing investigation. With this in mind, innocent people being investigated for possible crimes must avoid obstructing the investigation, otherwise, they run the risk of being charged with a crime they did commit. Your lawyer will lay out what constitutes obstruction in an effort to prevent you from getting yourself into any additional legal trouble.
Nobody likes being the target of an ongoing criminal investigation. Those who are innocent can feel especially violated and betrayed by society. While law enforcement strives to facilitate justice, they are far from perfect. It’s important for those being targeted by criminal investigators to take the right steps to ensure the process doesn’t lead to a travesty of justice.