For most people, being arrested can be an extremely frightening and stressful experience. The process often involves physical discomfort, isolation from friends and loved-ones, and much confusion about the charges that you will face and what will come next. During this very harrowing time, it is important that you remain as calm as possible and focus on preserving your rights. The police do not need overwhelming evidence to arrest you. All they need is probable cause to believe that you have committed an offense. If the government’s evidence never grows beyond probable cause, then you cannot be convicted of a crime. In order to be found guilty of a crime in court, the government must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a high standard of proof. Often, the government looks to you to provide the additional evidence that they need to prove your guilt.
This is why it is critical that you know your rights and that you take steps to protect your rights as soon as you have been arrested, so that you do not inadvertently convict yourself through incriminating statements and actions. The following four tips will help to ensure that you protect yourself while you are under arrest:
1. Remain silent
The Fifth Amendment grants you the right against self-incrimination. You cannot be compelled to incriminate yourself or to provide statements that would tend to prove that you committed the crimes for which you are charged. This means that you do not have to answer any questions. If the police ask you questions about your alleged offense, you should simply refuse to answer. Even answers that you might think would be helpful could turn out to hurt you. If you say nothing, you give the government nothing to use against you.
2. Ask for a lawyer
The Sixth Amendment grants you the right to the assistance of an attorney at every critical stage of the criminal process. As soon as you are arrested, you should ask to speak to a lawyer. Even if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court must appoint a lawyer for you at no expense to you. Once you have asked for a lawyer, the police are not allowed to speak to you any longer and must cease any attempt to interview you and elicit incriminating responses.
3. Preserve your attorney-client privilege
You are entitled to speak privately with your attorney, and the government cannot compel you or your attorney to disclose the content of those conversations. In order to protect your right to keep your conversations with your attorney confidential, you must take steps to ensure that your conversations are not being recorded or overheard. After you are arrested, you will be subject to constant monitoring by cameras and guards. Be sure that you verify that your conversations are not being recorded. Also, never discuss the conversations that you have with your attorney with anyone else. If you disclose these conversations to others, you destroy the privilege that protects the confidentiality of these communications and you enable the government to compel a witness to disclose the content of these communications.
4. Seek Pretrial Release
After you are arrested, a judicial officer will decide whether and under what conditions you will be released pending the trial or resolution of your case. Depending on the charges you are facing and your criminal history, you could be released on personal recognizance, or your personal promise to return to court. You could also be released on the payment of a bond. Or, you could be held without bond until your trial. If you are released, the court will set certain conditions that you must follow in order to remain out of jail while your case is pending. It is critical that you follow these conditions carefully. If you are held in jail pending trial, you are at a huge disadvantage because you will not be able to assist your attorney fully in your defense. If you are released, your attorney can speak to your more frequently and with greater privacy, and you can further assist in your own defense.
As a former prosecutor, Diana Weiss Aizman of the Aizman Law Firm has unique insight into the defense of criminal charges. Contact the Aizman Law Firm right away if you have been arrested or charged with a criminal offense.