Criminal Procedure 101 – Lesson 1
Let’s talk about criminal procedure. The first “event,” shall we say, in this series of events, is when you encounter with the police. The police, or law enforcement, may arrest you on the spot, OR they will send you a citation in the mail after determining that you have engaged in criminal behavior.
In the case of assault, homicide, and all other crimes in the criminal code (and not in the civil code, for example) in which there is a victim, this procedure is not in the control of the victim. The law enforcement personnel have full discretion as to whether to file a criminal complaint against you.
This first event is the most crucial event. Cases are won and lost in this first encounter, mostly because more than 90% of people confess to committing a crime during this encounter. The number is real. Look it up.
My counsel is this: Once you are accused of a crime, stop speaking. The more you say, the more likely you are to admit to a crime or be accused of, “changing your story.” Police officers may use intimidation in order to try to get a confession. Don’t be intimidated. A police officer is a member of your community doing his or her job. That’s all.
My second piece of advice is this: Don’t let police officers scare you with threats of a getting warrant, etc. It is your right to say no to a search, for example. Make them go get the warrant. Do not believe the line that your cooperation will bode well for you in the future. That’s a lie, and it’s one that is very useful to police officers that want you to make their job easy by confessing to a crime on the spot.
My third piece of advice is this: Use these magic words to stop an interrogation: “I’d like to speak to my lawyer now.” This is the best thing that you can do for yourself once you’ve been accused of a crime. If you don’t have a lawyer on retainer, you can always call our office at (814) 758-5659 and hire us. Write this number down and keep it in your wallet. Seriously.
For more information on this topic, please visit the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” pages.