4 First Steps When You are Accused of a Crime
When you are accused a crime, whether formally or in a way that you believe charges are coming, it is important to take immediate action to protect yourself. The four steps that follow are a great start to putting yourself in a position to minimize, if not eliminate, your problems.
Don’t say anything to anybody except an attorney.Law enforcement is well aware that the tendency of most people is to hope they can explain their situation away. “If only they knew my side of the story....” This is a trap into which so many people fall. Just like you hear on TV, your statements can be used against you. What’s worse is that your statements can be misquoted, manipulated, or misinterpreted. If that is the case, you will quickly find yourself in a battle of credibility- you vs. a police officer. In court, I will bet on the officer to be believed every time.
What’s more is that ANYBODY you speak to about your situation can become a potential witness against you. A friend, neighbor, or even a family member can be interviewed and/or called to testify against you. Once you start talking about your case to such people, your words are no longer your own and you have lost control.
What can you do about this? STOP TALKING. The only person you should be speaking to is your attorney. You have confidentiality and privilege with a lawyer, but not with others. Let your lawyer control when and how your statements are disclosed. You do not play the game that everybody else in the justice system plays; don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know best. Even the smartest person can dig themself into a deep hole with the best of intentions.
Evaluate your resources.No all crimes are built the same. Some are easily handled, some can have life-altering consequences in ways you cannot predict. But, one thing is certain, there will be expenses incurred in handling your charges. Here is a list of potential financial considerations that could be on the horizon for the accused:
1. Bail. Will I need to post bail in order to remain free and keep my job?
2. Attorney fees. Can I afford a lawyer or should I seek the public defender? If so, which lawyer?
3. Fines and costs. How much will this cost me on the back-end? Fines and costs can often times be thousands of dollars, but are also often times subject to payment plans.
4. Employment. Am I going to lose my job over this? Sometimes even being accused of a crime is enough to cause job loss. While your resources may be one thing now, consider that a loss of income could be on the horizon for some cases.
5. Goals. Different attorneys will charge different fees for different things. Figure out what you are paying for. Is it for a full-blown trial or a plea? Does it include expenses? Is it flat or hourly? You have to anticipate how, when, and where you want the case to end and the costs associated with reaching those goals.
6. Experts. In many cases being contested, an expert is being used against a defendant. Pushing back with your own expert is ideal, but often times expensive. Sometimes the experts can even cost more than the lawyer! Talk to your lawyer on the front-end of the case to determine whether retaining an expert is viable for your situation.
Stay out of trouble.This one may seem obvious, but I can’t emphasize enough how crippling it can be for a defendant to incur additional charges while another set of charges is pending. People are usually charged with crimes during tumultuous or difficult times in their lives. Often times people are spiraling downward. It is important to avoid problematic people and situations. If you have a drug or alcohol issue, it is important to start addressing it immediately because addiction can lead to trouble with the law. Know you conditions of bail release and follow them- it is much easier to fight a case while free than when in jail.
Get a lawyer.To be blunt, you are downright foolish if you do not seek legal counsel. Simply being accused of a crime can have lifelong consequences affecting your freedom, employment, rights, children, and virtually every other facet of your life. There are far too many non-lawyers eager to dish out legal advice. While such people are often well-meaning, they are also typically giving harmful advice. Seek a professional who knows the system and how to get ahead of your problems. I’ve had countless discussions with clients whose problems could have been resolved if only they had come to me earlier. Make the phone calls (many attorneys even do an initial free consult). Make the investment. Get a lawyer as soon as possible.