Protecting Your Rights During a Criminal Investigation

Criminal cases begin with a law enforcement investigation. The length of the investigation depends on many factors, and can last anywhere from hours to years. During that time, you may not even know that you’re under investigation. At some point, the investigators may contact you for questioning, or even bring you to the precinct with the hope that you’ll be able to help them. Having a criminal defense attorney at your side during questioning is your right, and he or she may help protect you.

The Investigators

A number of agencies may be involved in a criminal investigation, depending on the nature of the case, including who has jurisdiction. These agencies may include:

  • City Police
  • County Sheriff
  • State Troopers
  • Federal Marshals
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Tribal Lands Police
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
  • Secret Service

The Investigative Process

Often, once the primary investigating agency files the case with the court, the investigation is then turned over to federal or state prosecutors, who will decide to pursue or drop the case. Before that time, the investigating agencies will complete a number of tasks, including:

  • Interview witnesses to gain information. If they request an interview with you, hiring a criminal lawyer may help protect your rights, because he or she will accompany you to the interview.
  • Collect evidence from any crime scenes including fingerprints, DNA samples, etc.
  • Perform research appropriate to the case

Your Rights When Being Arrested

Though officers are not required to read you the Miranda warning upon arresting you, if they don’t read the warning, anything you say cannot be held against you. You may not be given the warning until you are booked or interrogated, but it may be wise to not saying anything regardless. If you claim that a police officer did not give the warning, but the officer disagrees, he or she will likely receive the benefit of the doubt. As the Miranda warning states, you have these rights:

  • The right to remain silent. This gives you the right to avoid making statements that could be used against you in a court of law. Simply tell the officer you wish to exercise your right to remain silent.
  • You have the right to an attorney. Because of this right, the government has the burden of paying for an attorney on your behalf if you can’t afford representation. These legal representatives are known as Public Defenders. If you hire your own criminal defense attorney, he or she is considered a private attorney. Public Defenders are often overworked and may not be able to dedicate enough focus or resources to your case. Private attorneys will usually charge clients for their time and expenses, but many clients consider this a worthwhile investment to protect their rights.

Your Rights and the Legal Process

If you believe you are under investigation, or have been told that you are, retaining a criminal attorney can be of great benefit. He or she can advise you on events as they happen. From a legal standpoint, they can also advise you on your options and help protect your rights.

During an investigation, a law enforcement officer (whether they work for the police, the FBI, or another agency) can legally lie to you in an effort to get information or in an attempt to get a confession from you. An experienced criminal attorney is familiar with these tricks and can separate legal facts from fiction. Here is an impartial list of your rights:

  • You have the right to see and read the warrant for your arrest.
  • You have the right to see and read the search warrant for your property or vehicle.
  • If the officer doesn’t have a search warrant that specifies an area that can be searched, they can’t legally search it unless you give them permission. This is a good reason to carefully read the search warrant.
  • If you are inside your home, they must have an arrest warrant to come into your home to arrest you. For this reason, you should not step outside if they ask to speak with you.
  • If they arrest you, it’s your right to know on what charge they’re arresting you.
  • If you choose to remain silent and not answer the officer’s questions, you cannot be punished for this in any way.
  • You can refuse to take a lie detector test until your attorney is present or gives consent.
  • If you’re told to participate in a lineup or other method of witness identification, you have the right to have your attorney present.
  • After you have been arrested, you can make any number of calls required in order to reach someone to let them know of your arrest.
  • You have the right to a reasonable amount of bail or a bond unless you’ve been charged with a capital crime such as first degree murder.

For more information about protecting your rights during a criminal investigation, contact a local attorney today.