If You've Been Arrested
Call an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorney can advise you of your rights while in police custody and help protect you from hurting your chances in court. He or she can prepare for and appear at your arraignment, arguing against the prosecutor's request for the judge to set bail. The attorney can thoroughly investigate your case and interview witnesses who may help you. If appropriate, your attorney can help present your side of the story to a prosecutor who is considering filing formal charges. Ultimately, he or she can challenge the evidence against you in court proceedings such as suppression hearings and trial.
If You Are Stopped on the Street
If a police officer stops you on the street, you are not obliged by law to answer any questions the officer may ask. You can simply say, "I do not wish to speak to you" and walk away. The police officer, however, may attempt to continue the contact through further questioning. If the officer suspects you of a crime, he or she will try hard to get you to say something that can justify arresting you, and what you say can later be used against you in court. How to deal with such an encounter depends upon numerous factors.
If you've been involved in illegal activities and the officer seems to suspect as much, you would be very foolish to answer any questions. Even statements of intended "denial" may seriously hurt you in court. In this situation, if you are free to leave, you should excuse yourself and do so immediately. If you are not free to leave, you are essentially in police custody and have been "arrested." Talking to the officer will not change that. You should say nothing except basic pedigree information (your name, address, date of birth, etc.). Call or request a lawyer immediately, and refuse to answer any questions without a lawyer present.
If the Police Are Looking For You
If the police are calling your home asking to speak with you, you may be a suspect in a criminal investigation. Quite often, the detective will seek to question you on the telephone about the incident, and then ask you to come voluntarily to the station house to "straighten things out." If you go to the station house, you will probably be asked to talk further about the case.
Ultimately, you will be asked to sign a statement giving "your side of the story" (but usually written or typed by the detective). While this might seem like a golden opportunity to get out of trouble, it is often a trap. The statement will generally be constructed to include an admission of some guilt in the matter. After you sign it, you may then be handcuffed, fingerprinted and photographed. Sometimes the only basis the police had for arresting a person at all was the statement he or she gave to them. Often this statement (which the prosecutor will call a "confession") is the most damaging piece of evidence at trial.
If the police have an active arrest warrant or bench warrant for you, or believe that they already have enough evidence against you to constitute "probable cause" (although no warrant has been signed), your arrest may be unavoidable. It may be wise to voluntarily surrender. Of course, it is crucial that you do not make any statements to the police, or answer their questions, and quickly obtain legal counsel. An attorney can negotiate the terms of your voluntary surrender in a manner which can minimize your time in police or court custody.
If You Are In Police Custody
In Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court held that prior to any questioning of a person in custody, the police must advise the person of certain rights. These rights are commonly called the Miranda Rights. They will read you these rights only if they intend to question you. After reading them to you, they will question you in an effort to get you to incriminate yourself. They will write down your statements, and often ask you to sign a written version. Answering questions but refusing to sign a written statement doesn't help you. Oral confessions can be just as damaging as signed written ones. Answer no questions until you have spoken with a lawyer.
What if the police neglect to read you your rights? It could result in a major blow to the case against you. Even a full written confession to the crime can be thrown out of court. And if the confession led the police to further evidence against you, that evidence could be thrown out too! However, although evidence is thrown out, remember that the case itself is not necessarily dismissed. If there is other evidence of your guilt, that other evidence could still be used to prosecute you.
If You Are Stopped For Drunk Driving
Contrary to what some people may think, there is no constitutional right to refuse a breath or chemical test to determine the level of alcohol in your body. Some states have "implied consent" laws, under which drivers are deemed to have consented to testing just by the act of driving in that state. If you've been stopped and arrested for drunk driving, you will be faced with the decision of whether to take such a test. On the one hand, refusing to take the test has its consequences: your license can be revoked merely for the refusal (even if you're perfectly sober). Your refusal may be admissible as evidence of your guilt at a trial of the drunk driving charge, and some prosecutor's offices will not extend reduced plea offers on refusal cases.
Have an Attorney Review Your Case for Free
You don't have to wait until you are arrested or charges are filed to retain an attorney. Apart from solving problems, legal advice can also help keep problems from developing. If you are under suspicion for a criminal act, you may want to consider having an attorney evaluate your legal situation, at no cost to you.