Potential clients and their relatives often call our office when they learn that either they or a loved one have been a target of a criminal investigation. Others wait to see what will become of the investigation before contacting an attorney. Some people call us after the case has already gone to trial or after they have lost a trial or lost on appeal. The bottom line is that the best time to hire a criminal defense lawyer is as soon as possible. While some individuals are caught red handed and are arrested on the spot, other crimes are investigated by the Nebraska State Patrol, FBI, county sheriff’s office or local police for days, weeks, or months before an arrest is made.
The most important concept a person suspected of a crime must know is the burden is on the government to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Often law enforcement will have pieces of the case but needs to further investigate in order to establish probable cause to arrest someone or to obtain a search warrant or an arrest warrant from a judge.
In many instances, persons charged with crimes could have avoided being charged had they taken appropriate precautions. Other times, law enforcement has a good case against a person and charges are inevitable. The problem is the person who is the target of a criminal investigation rarely knows what law enforcement is seeking or the status of the investigation.
Persons being investigated sometimes make the mistake of taking actions that harm their case that tend to suggest their guilt or that they are trying to cover something up, destroy evidence or tamper with witnesses which can only make the case worse and may also result in additional charges being filed.
The earlier the target of a criminal investigation contacts an attorney, the sooner the attorney can advise the client, begin any necessary investigation, preserve evidence, and advise the client on his or her rights and what actions will mitigate the risk of being charged with a crime. Attorneys cannot provide legal advice until they represent the client. While there is nothing wrong with an attorney explaining constitutional rights to a potential client, the attorney cannot provide specific advice to the criminal suspect unless that person is a client.
In more complex cases, such as federal drug conspiracies, wire fraud or money laundering, the defendant may become aware of the investigation prior to law enforcement even attempting to question him. This often occurs because law enforcement generally will interview other witnesses before interviewing a target. In these incidents, a target often learns from other witnesses that law enforcement has been asking questions about him. The target then has the opportunity to contact an attorney for advice and representation while the investigation is still pending. Sometimes a criminal target will speak with the FBI or other law enforcement agency believing that they are just clearing their name only later to learn that they have been subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury. At this point, the target has the opportunity to contact the attorney for representation prior to the grand jury hearing. While the defense attorney can advise his client prior to the grand jury proceeding, the defense attorney’s role is much more limited at that phase than when the defendant has been indicted and the case goes forward to trial.
Some people think they have to wait until they have been arrested to hire a criminal defense attorney. This is not true. Any person who wishes to retain an attorney to defend that person’s constitutional rights may do so at any time.