Your Rights in a Criminal Investigation
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Learning your rights in a criminal investigation and preparing yourself for an eventual police encounter can make a big difference if you ever get arrested. Being investigated or arrested for a crime usually comes as a surprise, and as such most people are not prepared to assert their rights when confronted with the authorities. Yet asserting your rights in the first encounters with law enforcement and prosecutors can vastly improve your chances of avoiding a criminal conviction later on.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but the police are under no obligation to follow this rule. They may threaten, intimidate, and trick you into giving up your rights, making a confession, or consenting to a search. However, one of your most important rights is your right to have an attorney represent you during an investigation. It’s never too early in the process to contact an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney to fight for you.
The 5th Amendment Guarantees Your Right to Remain Silent
Every person on US soil is entitled to remain silent when questioned by any law enforcement officer or public official. This is the single most important right to remember when you have a police encounter. It is so important, in fact, that the police have to inform you of this right (and your 6th amendment right to a lawyer) when you get arrested.
Remaining silent is so important because everything you say can and will be used against you. Not only can the police misconstrue what you say, they can exploit any inconsistency between what you say during an arrest with what you say at the police station or on the witness stand. Almost no one is capable of telling a story the same way multiple times, so the fewer times you explain yourself, the less chance you have of contradicting yourself.
There is simply no situation in which talking to the police can help if you suspect you might get arrested or charged with a crime. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once stated, “Any lawyer worth his salt will tell a suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to police under any circumstances.”
If the police stop and question you, politely inform them of your intent to exercise your right to remain silent. They may try to tell you otherwise, but the law absolutely protects this right.
The 4th Amendment Protects You From Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
Unless a police officer has an arrest warrant or probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, he or she cannot arrest you. And if the officer doesn’t have the authority to arrest you, he or she can only detain you long enough to confirm or deny the suspicion that you’ve committed a crime. This is because the 4th Amendment protects you from unreasonable “seizures,” which applies to your property but also to your own person.
This means that if you’ve been pulled over or stopped by the police, and you want to put an end to the encounter, you can ask whether you’re under arrest. If the officer says no — or changes the subject, which is more likely — this means that you are not under arrest and therefore free to go.
While your constitutional rights can be asserted at any time, remember to use polite language and a calm demeanor. Police officers are armed and stressed, so you have nothing to gain by making the encounter unpleasant.
In terms of searches, the 4th Amendment gives you the right to refuse a search of your home, business, or vehicle. The only time the police do not need your consent to search your property is when they have a search warrant (as opposed to an arrest warrant) or reason to believe there is an emergency requiring them to enter.
If the police have an arrest warrant, they can only enter your house to apprehend you, and can only seize items in plain sight. For example, they can’t rummage through closets or move furniture.
The 6th Amendment Gives You the Right to an Attorney
When you get arrested, the police have to read you your “Miranda” rights, which involves informing you of your right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment and your right to a lawyer under the 6th Amendment. Next, the police will you take you to the police station, where you will eventually face questioning. The police may deceive or threaten you into answering their questions — don’t fall into their trap.
You have the right to an attorney as soon as the questioning starts and, if you clearly assert this right, the questioning must stop. Having an attorney by your side during questioning is essential, because he or she will be able to ensure that the police do not trample your rights. Your attorney can also determine what the police know about your case and what information they may be seeking, which may be useful in formulating your defense strategy.
Why Asserting Your Rights Matters for Your Defense Strategy
A sound defense strategy will make use of every piece of evidence available in your case. Your attorney can request all the documentation related to your investigation and apprehension, and can even question the officers who arrested you. The main reason for this so-called “discovery” is to determine whether your rights were infringed at any point during the investigation, apprehension, or interrogation process.
In your trial, the prosecutor cannot use any evidence against you that was obtained in violation of your constitutional rights. For example, if the police thoroughly searched your home and found incriminating items, but only had an arrest warrant, those incriminating items cannot be mentioned during your trial.
Similarly, if you get charged with DWI but it emerges that the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place, all the evidence obtained from that traffic stop will be inadmissible in your criminal trial.
How a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
The prosecutor bears the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Without evidence, the prosecutor cannot meet that burden and a conviction will be out of the question. In some cases, your lawyer may be able to put into question so much of the prosecutor’s evidence that the charges may get dropped altogether—even before the trial begins. Thus, asserting your constitutional rights can be an effective way of avoiding a conviction for a criminal offense.
Ned Barnett has nearly three decades of experience both prosecuting and defending the rights of criminal suspects. His extensive knowledge and experience of the Texas criminal justice system have made him one of the most reputable Houston criminal defense attorneys. Recently nominated in 2015 to Super Lawyers, a Thomas Reuters service listing top legal professionals in the area, Ned Barnett is ready to take on the defense of your case today.
Call today at (713) 222-6767 for your confidential case consultation.