Few things are more threatening to a person than the prospect of being investigated by the police or other authorities. There are many state and federal laws, administrative regulations, licensing board rules, and ordinances to regulate almost every aspect of our lives. The authorities are charging people with crimes for an assortment of real and imagined misdeeds. However, knowledge should replace fear, and taking some precise, careful steps when being investigated will help ensure that your rights are safeguarded that may result in a better outcome for you. Therefore, here are a few general tips to keep in mind if you believe that you are being investigated by the police or authorities, or even think that you are being investigated.
With police and prosecutors going about doing their jobs, virtually every complaint of a criminal nature has the possibility of being investigated. That means if you are the person that is suspected or accused of wrongdoing, the chances are good that either you or the wrongdoing will be investigated. Don’t panic, you are not alone. If this happens, the first thing you should do is find a good criminal defense attorney – preferably one that has lots of experience with criminal investigation cases, and go get help – sooner rather than later.
Sometimes, investigation cases can take a long time to be properly investigated, and sometimes the investigation never gets completed. Often, time works in favor of the accused. You should be aware that there are time limits imposed by law for prosecutors to charge someone with a crime. The vast majority of legal actions are resolved by negotiation rather than by hearing or trial. Negotiations sometimes become easier when police and prosecutors are trying to resolve old cases because witnesses won't remember details when they happen long ago, and sometimes evidence will be harder to locate and do tests on.
If you remember nothing else, remember that police and prosecutors are not your friend, and they are not trying to help you. All too often people are surprised when they visited by a police officer or investigator. People lower their guard and say and do things that are ill-advised. In an attempt to defend their actions or make sure an investigator understands their side, people often jeopardize their opportunity for an effective defense by answering questions and providing written statements without even a clear understanding of what the investigation is about. Likewise, poilce will often call suspects on the phone asking them for their side. This is also a common tactic and should be avoided at all costs. The police will almost always record the conversations, and will sometimes get others to call instead (this is called a confrontation call and is just as damaging). Do not talk about any accusation on the phone. If this happens, simply hang up and call your attorney.
Many people agree to a police interview or to provide documents before they have a clear idea of who is requesting the information and for what purpose. Sometimes people are told they have to cooperate, and sometimes they are even threatened with arrest. Don’t let the police fool you, it is just a clever trick. If you are asked to conduct an interview or provide documents (or anything else), you can politely ask such things as: “what is this all about?” or “can I contact my attorney first?” If you are told nothing, say nothing and hang up. If you are told you can contact an attorney first, hang up and do it. If you are told you cannot contact an attorney first, tell them you are calling an attorney anyways, then hang up and call your attorney.
There are many investigating agencies. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies may have overlapping jurisdictions in a particular case. If a police officer or investigator wants to talk to you, find out: 1) who he or she is, 2) what agency they represent, and 3) get a contact or call-back number before they begin. The easiest way to find out is to ask. Finding out who is investigating may be important because different agencies investigate different things and you should have a better idea of what the investigation concerns based on who is conducting the investigation. Besides, your attorney will want to know who to contact later to make more specific inquiries.
Police and investigators look into many things. It may be you, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor, or something else altogether. Ask who is being investigated and why, and keep askling until you get an answer. If you don't get an answer, then terminate the conversation. In the beginning, the primary person asking questions should be you, not the police. If you are the subject of the investigation, depending on what the investigation is about, you may wish to terminate or postpone the interview or phone conversation until you have discussed the matter with legal counsel.
If you are told, "this is just a routine investigation," ask yourself for whom is it routine? Sure, it is routine for the investigator; he or she probably investigates someone every day, but it is not routine for you. Being investigated is not a trivial matter. If the investigator refuses to disclose who is being investigated or says he or she can't tell you what the investigation is about, then it is time to terminate the interview. If the investigator is not going to be up front with you, it is not in your best interest to talk to him or her. Politely ask for their contact information and tell them you will discuss it with your attorney first, then your attorney will contact them if needed.
If the investigator's response to your questions or concerns is: "if you don't want to answer questions here, you can answer them downtown," or "we can put you out of business," or "we can do this the easy way or the hard way," then right away it is clear that the investigator is not going to be reasonable and is more concerned with his or her ego than your rights. Such an attitude is a signal to stop talking immediately and call an attorney as soon as you can. A good investigator will be friendly, and a friendly investigator is far more effective and far more dangerous than a surly one. Remember, although an investigator might be friendly, the investigator is not your friend, and is not there to help you; he or she is there to do a job get information, and to get evidence.
The Miranda warnings are only given to someone who is the subject of a criminal investigation. If a police officer or an investigator tells you that you have the right to remain silent, there is no guesswork involved. You are the subject of a criminal investigation, and there is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by talking to them without your attorney present. Do not answer any question, only say “I want my attorney” no matter what is asked. Attorneys do not like their clients to speak to the police or investigators when they are not present. In a serious case, it is in the best interests of the person being investigated to tell his or her story for the first time to the attorney, then perhaps during a settlement conference, in court, or at trial. Any time a story is told twice, there are variations, and the police and prosecutor will often use those variations to attack the credibility of the story teller.
People who are being investigated often worry about appearing uncooperative and angering the investigator. Remember, the investigator is not your friend and not going to help you. It doesn't matter if an investigator does not like you, or tries to make you feel bad. The easiest way to stop a police interview is to request an attorney. Your rights are at stake so exercise them.
Although you would be making a mistake, if you do decide to talk to the police or an investigator, do not lie. It is a crime to give false information to a police officer, and it always is a big mistake to lie. It also is unnecessary. Remember, you can terminate an interview at any time, for any reason. So, if you feel uncomfortable, or if you don't like the questions being asked, stop the interview and seek legal counsel. Often a person’s first instinct is to explain what happened, but remember, an investigator cannot be counted on to listen or understand. An investigator often sees his or her job as gathering evidence to prosecute an offense committed by the person being investigated, and that does not necessarily make the investigator a good or unbiased listener. Further, an investigator might not have the expertise necessary to understand the explanation. Also, it is the prosecutor, not the investigator, who decides whether someone will be prosecuted and for what crimes. Hold any explanations for your attorney.
In most cases, the investigator will prepare a written report (usually called a departmental report, or DR) of any interview conducted during an investigation. These reports are very important because they will be reviewed by prosecutors who will decide whether to file formal charges. The problem is that a report is written by an investigator from that investigator's viewpoint. Important statements and points raised are often minimized or omitted when they do not fit the investigator's view of the case. If you do not talk to an investigator, then you can tell your story for the first time in your own words, in a context where it counts. Also, remember, what you say to an investigator will never be used by a prosecutor for your benefit.
An investigator might not have any legal right to requested materials but, if you provide them, then they may be used against you. Further, there might be a legal reason to question the validity of a subpoena or the authority of the entity that issued it. So, never give up anything. Next, if you were served a subpoena, call your attorney immediately. He or she should know what to do about it. If you were served with a search warrant, call your attorney before letting anyone in your house, car, or anything else. There are few occasions where police can break into some place without your permission, but there is no law that requires you open the door to your house – or to go outside. If you are in your house when they come, don’t open the door. Ask who it is and what do they want. If they say something like “police, search warrant,” ask them to show you a copy through a window or something, then call your attorney. Police will lie about having one, so make them prove it. They will also try to get you to open the door where they will put a foot inside preventing you from closing the door.
This is critical. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by providing a written statement at the time of an interview, and much to be lost. The only reason for an investigator to request a written statement during an interview is to lock you into that statement. Such a statement will only be used against you and never for your benefit. While it is in your best interest to provide requested information in writing for the purpose of avoiding misinterpretation (your attorney will help with this), it is not necessary to do that at the time of an interview. Carefully review all written information with your attorney before it is submitted.
Most cases end in a negotiated plea agreement. Plea terms often depend on the amount of information the prosecutor has and what he or she can prove. In most cases, the less information the other side has, the better for you. You control the flow of information, so guard it carefully. Only consider providing information through your attorney.
If you are in Arizona, we can help. Attorney Rick Poster is a certified criminal law specialist and has worked many investigation cases with success. A positive outcome may depend on getting his quick and qualified legal counsel on your side right away. If you believe that you are being investigated in Arizona, or you actually are being investigated by the police in Arizona, time is of the essence - don't delay. Call attorney Rick Poster at 623-261-4532 to schedule your appointment now.
If you live in any other state than Arizona, call a qualified attorney in your area as soon as possible.