Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer??
If you’re asking the question, the easy answer is: when in doubt, Yes! We are naturally programmed toward self-preservation, so go with your gut. If you think you should, then contact a lawyer – BEFORE you talk to the police.
The three main reasons prompting the need for a criminal defense lawyer are:
You have been charged with a crime. This may occur following a physical arrest or through a summons that you receive through the mail advising you that you’ve been charged with a crime or crimes. In both instances, you will receive notice to appear and attend a court hearing to answer the criminal complaint or indictment. Be aware that every one of us has a constitutional right to an attorney once charges have been filed in a criminal case.
You have been detained in connection with potential criminal charges. If detained for a potential criminal charge, the prosecutor having jurisdiction, whether it’s the District Attorney, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, or the United States Attorney or their respective assistants or deputies may be directing the efforts of law enforcement. If an in-custody interrogation follows the arrest, the person being questioned has an absolute constitutional right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during the questioning. Use that right by simply stating “I want a lawyer.”
You are being investigated for a crime. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors often contact people directly to answer questions about their alleged involvement in a crime. Again, if you have any worries, contact an attorney before talking to the police.
Police are trained in how to deal with those they suspect. The old “good cop, bad cop” plays out often in real life; often to the detriment of the accused. Law enforcement agents will try to get you comfortable with talking because they know more often than not if you speak, they’ll gain the upper hand. Never think you’re smarter than the cop. As a former prosecutor, I used to love when a person made a statement, admitting guilt or denying it. Either way, I had the person locked into a story that typically restricted his/her ability to change their story. Get out in front of the case. When possible, act before you have to react. Most of the time, results are better when you hire an attorney early in the process. Finally, don’t take advice from the cop or the prosecutor. Their interests are almost always averse to yours.
What Is a Miranda Warning?
If you’ve watched a cop show on TV, you’ve most likely heard the Miranda warnings that police read:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
There are fairly strict limitations as to when Miranda warnings must be given to a suspect or criminal defendant. Although Miranda warnings were implemented to protect the individual’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, there are only specific situations when they must be given. Simply put, Miranda warnings need only be given when a person is in custody and the cop or prosecutor is asking questions likely to elicit an incriminating response from the person. Otherwise, you are fair game. For example, if a cop says you are free to leave but then asks you a question to which you respond, there may not be a violation of your rights. The same holds if you volunteer a statement without being questioned. Miranda warnings are intended to ensure that you know you have a right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and the right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment. The fact is that your right to an attorney has more teeth to it and requires the prosecution to immediately stop questioning. The remedy for a violation of the rule can result in suppression of statements made by the suspect/defendant and potentially any evidence derived from the use of the illegally obtained statements. These are complicated issues that should be reviewed with a lawyer.
Do I Have a Right to An Attorney if Stopped And/or Detained for A DUI?
No. Pennsylvania law says that you generally do not have a right to an attorney during the investigation of a DUI, i.e. before you are charged. The reason is based on the idea that by driving on a roadway of the Commonwealth, the person driving impliedly consents to have a blood, breath, or urine test drawn and you do not have a right to an attorney at the stage in which that occurs. If you believe a DUI will be charged or you already received paperwork charging you with DUI, contact an attorney. Options exist and it’s important to realize that there are nuances to how different counties and federal courts handle DUIs.
If I Am in Custody, how Do I Assert My Right to Remain Silent And/or My Right to An Attorney?
If you’re a suspect or have already been charged, simply say “I want an attorney” or words to that effect and “I’d like to exercise my right to remain silent” or words to that effect. If the cop persists in trying to question you, remember to be respectful and simply restate your wish to consult with a lawyer.
What Is a Search Warrant?
A search warrant is a written court order that a judge issues to authorize law enforcement officials to conduct a search of a specific and particular person, location, or vehicle for evidence of a crime and to confiscate evidence that they find. Under the Fourth Amendment, searches must be reasonable and specific and subject to a showing of probable cause.
A search warrant is not required where an authorized person consents to the search or where exigent circumstances exist such as in situations that threaten public safety or loss of evidence.
What Is Probable Cause?
Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief of information required to arrest someone, to search or seize private property in many cases, or to charge someone with a crime. Probable cause to arrest, search, or seize property exists when facts and circumstances known to the police officer would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a crime; that the place to be searched was the scene of a crime; that the place to be searched contains evidence of a crime; and/or that property to be seized is contraband, stolen, or constitutes evidence of a crime.
If a Police Officer Knocks on My Door and Asks to Search My Home, Do I Have to Let the Officer In?
You do not unless the police officer has a warrant. If the police do not have a warrant, you are under no legal obligation to let the officer search your residence unless exigent circumstances exist such as in situations that threaten public safety or loss of evidence.
If I Am Arrested, Can the Officer Search Me?
Yes. Police officers have the right to search you and the area within your immediate control. The reason for the search must be for the safety of the police such as making sure that you have no weapon and/or to protect against the destruction of evidence.
Can an Officer Use Force to Arrest Me?
Pennsylvania law states that a law enforcement officer, or any person assisting him, need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance to the arrest. Therefore, a force that the law enforcement officer believes is necessary to effectuate the arrest and/or to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest is legal. However, deadly force is only justified when the officer reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or another person, or when he believes both that (i) deadly force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and (ii) the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.
If You’ve Been Arrested...
Contact us before you do anything else. Remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Everything you say CAN and WILL be used against you. Police can promise you the world but only the prosecutor has the authority to make a promise binding. Even if you’re offered the opportunity to cooperate in exchange for the dismissal of charges or the lowering of charges, you’re still better off having a lawyer by your side to make sure what is promised is what you get. Regardless of whether you’re guilty or innocent, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to get you what is fair and just. A few very important things to remember:
It’s almost impossible to tell a lie the same way twice so don’t make matters worse by thinking you can outsmart a trained police officer;
Remember that the police officer is not your friend. He or she may be the nicest person in the world, but if you’re arrested, you are guilty in his/her eyes and the goal is to get a conviction;
An investigator may also suggest that an innocent person has nothing to hide and therefore does not need a lawyer. Don’t fall for that one, either. You have the right to remain silent—innocent or guilty. Again, do not speak to law enforcement authorities without a criminal defense lawyer present.