Many people assume that law enforcement has some kind of duty to notify a suspect before they seek criminal charges against them. This is not true. In fact, to the contrary, the police often try to catch a suspect by surprise when arresting him or her so that the suspect does not flee.
Sometimes they even do it for media-related purposes.
If you are actually being charged with a crime, one of the following will occur:
1. A police officer or detective will show up, put handcuffs on you and arrest you. He/she may give you a chance to make a statement first…as discussed in many of my blogs, you probably do not want to take that opportunity;
2. You receive a summons in the mail telling you that you have to show up at something called an “arraignment”. At that scheduled date, you will appear before a judge and a prosecutor will tell the judge what you are charged with. You may or may not be appointed a lawyer, depending on whether or not the Department of Probation believes you can afford to hire your own. However, there may be an issue of bail. If there is, the court will make sure you are represented for that hearing.
Upon being arraigned, the criminal charges will be on your record.
You need to show up or the court will issue a warrant for your arrest.; or
3. You receive a summons which tells you that you are to appear for a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing. This means that there will be a hearing to determine whether a criminal complaint should issue against you. The hearing is before a Clerk Magistrate. If the Clerk finds that there is “Probable Cause” to issue the complaint, you will end up at an Arraignment (See #2, above). If not, the matter is disposed of and does not go on your record. You’ve dodged the criminal justice bullet.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Anticipating Criminal Charges
We have discussed the above-described scenarios many times before in connection with various instances.
My suggestion is always the same…get experienced counsel as quickly as you can.
When law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation, they do not need to contact you. They may, however, do so. They will generally use the opportunity to improve the case that they are already building against you. Toward that end, the law says that they may mislead and outright lie to you to trick you into making some kind of statement they can use against you.
You may or may not know what they are after or what they suspect. However, if you read this blog you should know that if you lie to them it is a felony.
Defense attorneys like me are used to this type of situation. That is but one reason I suggest you get one of us involved before you do or say anything.
“What if I ask the officer if I need a lawyer?”
What do you think? Do you think the officer wants you to get a lawyer? The officer often will dissuade you…although probably fall short of saying “no”.
The fact is, however, an attorney can not only advise you, but might make a difference in how the investigation ends…including making the difference between your going to an Arraignment or a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing.
“I spoke to a couple of attorneys about cases where I know the police are investigating me. They told me there is nothing they can do until I am arrested. So, why should I get a lawyer?”
I know that many defense attorneys take this position and, to be honest, I could not disagree with them more in most cases. True, there are times when you do not want to make a move for strategic reasons. Otherwise, getting a lawyer involved can help you during the investigatory stage. While you do not “have to” have a lawyer there, the same is true in the case of a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing.
Heck, you do not even have to show up for a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing…but chances are that if you do not, the complaint will issue against you.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you at the hearing itself as well as prepare for the hearing.
If there is nothing to do, any decent attorney will tell you that.
However, I find that there is usually much that can be done during the investigatory stage of a criminal investigation.
If nothing else, it is kind of nice to start collecting YOUR evidence if possible and not waiting for the Commonwealth to get the first “leg up”.
Have a great, safe and law abiding weekend!