If you are being investigated for a crime, or you have been charged with a crime, and you do not know the first step to take in defending yourself, the following questions and answers may be helpful. The simple answer to most of the questions below is to contact a lawyer immediately. It is essential that you have a lawyer who will walk you through the process so that you can prepare your defense and consider the full range of legal options.
Call our law office now and avoid making a mistake that may ruin the rest of your life.
DISCLAIMER: This is a list of questions frequently asked by our clients and their families. The answers are brief and general in content. They are not intended to apply to every criminal situation, but are only intended to help you begin to understand the process of the Louisiana criminal judicial system and prepare you for our first meeting. The answers are not intended to replace the advice of a competent and experienced criminal defense lawyer as each case is different. Therefore, a more detailed and complete answer to the following questions will depend on the facts of your case. Moreover, you should be aware that there are many books and thousands of cases that attempt to answer these complex questions.
- What should I do if law enforcement authorities want to question me?
- Can police officers use force to arrest me?
- What happens after I am arrested?
- Am I going to remain in custody while the case is pending?
- Can I plead not guilty even if I am guilty?
- Can the charges against me be reduced?
- When should I hire a criminal defense lawyer?
What should I do if Law Enforcement Authorities want to question me?
When you are asked questions by law enforcement, tell them you wish to speak to a lawyer first and prepare yourself not to let them change your mind. Be sure to “dig in your heels.” This sounds like simple advice, but many times, it can be very difficult to follow. Keep in mind that law enforcement officers are trained professionals. They are prepared and expect you to say you want to talk to a lawyer first. They are experienced in dealing with this situation and you are not.
All citizens, as well as non-citizens, have an absolute right not to answer questions asked by a law enforcement agent and you should exercise that right. All communication should proceed through an attorney’s office. It is our job to protect you and insulate you from the investigatory process.
They have many techniques to get around your request that shift from friendly tactics to intimidating tactics. They typically will try to get you talking, about anything, and slowly gain your confidence and trust. Before you realize it, you are talking about the case. They may also tell you that your request makes you look guilty or they think you are innocent but only want to hear your side of the story. In cases that are more serious and after a long interrogation, the police may say to you that they know you are not a bad person, the act was not intentional, but an accident, and they need to hear it from you.
Be prepared for them to try to wear you down. Over the years, our firm has developed the belief that the more they want to talk to a client, the weaker the case. In other words, they need your story to arrest you, or to make a stronger case to convict you. There are other cases when the client spoke to the police hoping they were not going to be arrested, they did not sign anything, or the statement was not recorded. These are serious mistakes. Furthermore, if you are in their office, do not accept any offers for something to drink. We have seen many clients filled up with caffeinated beverages, and then denied access to the restroom.
In addition, you should never consent to a search of your home or vehicle or anything else.
Once you have consulted with a lawyer you will be able to make an informed decision about whether to answer any questions posed to you by law enforcement officials.
Can Police Officers use force to arrest me?
Yes. A police officer may use as much force as necessary for a criminal arrest, as long as it is reasonable and lawful. After an arrest is made, a police officer may, and usually does, apply handcuffs to a suspect.
What happens after I am arrested?
If you are arrested for breaking a criminal law, you will be brought before a magistrate (in federal court or Orleans Parish) or a commissioner (Jefferson Parish) who will advise you of the charges against you, set a bond for appearance in court, and appoint a lawyer if you are unable to afford one. If you are unable to post the bond, you will remain incarcerated until the case is over, or if you are lucky, the district attorney refuses the charges. In some cases, the district attorney does not accept the case timely and you will be released. You also may be lucky enough to be released because of prison overcrowding.
If bond is posted, you will remain free pending appearance at an arraignment. The arraignment is held before a judge, magistrate, or commissioner, who formally informs you of the offense for which you are being charged, and informs you of your right to a court appointed lawyer if you are unable to afford a lawyer. At the arraignment, you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Other than the least serious offense, a plea of not guilty is entered at the arraignment. The bond or bail may be reviewed, and a date for the next hearing is scheduled.
If we have been hired before the arraignment we will go with you to court. In some courts, your appearance can be waived and we will appear without you, so you can go to work.
Our advice to all clients who have been released on bond is to be prepared to be drug tested. If you test positive, you run the risk of the judge returning you to jail. In other words, do not take any illegal drugs after you have been released from jail.
Am I going to remain in custody while the case is pending?
Yes, unless a bond is posted or you are released because of jail overcrowding. For those cases where an arrest has been made or charges have already been filed, it is important to attempt to procure release for those individuals who remain in custody. For a person facing a criminal charge, the process is difficult enough without the additional trauma of spending time in jail. The remainder of the case is made much easier when a person is out of custody.
Can I plead not guilty even if I am guilty?
Yes. You are innocent until you are proven guilty. It is possible that the evidence against you is not enough to prove that you are guilty. To determine whether you have, in fact, committed any criminal offense, we will investigate the facts and research the law, which can be complex. You might have made a mistake, and feel guilty about it, but your act might not meet the legal definition of a crime.
Can the charges against me be reduced?
Every case is different. We will investigate the facts, review the police report, and contact the screening assistant district attorney about a reduction of charges or refusal of charges. Sometimes clients may not have hired an attorney in time to contact the screening attorney. The facts may not come to light until later in the case and a reduction may take place later as the case develops. There is a possibility of a reduced charge until a jury returns with a verdict.
When should I hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you are or may be accused of committing a crime, it is always in your best interest to contact a lawyer immediately. Our belief is that a lawyer’s defense of a client can never start too early. This, of course, means that you should hire a lawyer before you testify before a grand jury, answer questions by law enforcement, including prior to an arrest or after you are arrested or charged (indicted) with a crime. Even if you have not yet been charged with a crime, this is often the best time to hire a criminal defense attorney. Sometimes, it is possible for the lawyer and his investigators to gain valuable evidence that can change a prosecutor’s mind about pursuing a criminal case.
From the beginning, we can protect you from interrogation by the police, interview your witnesses as soon as possible, contact the prosecutors when appropriate and offer other services to gain as much control and information for you in a process that is often confusing, uncertain, and, in many cases frightening. We are also able, with your permission, to communicate with family and friends to assist in obtaining the best short-term and long-term results. The sooner our firm is involved in your case, the greater the chances of success.
Many times clients say that they did not call earlier because they felt that they were afraid that it would create the impression that they were guilty. Other clients have said that they were taking a “wait-and-see approach” hoping that nothing would happen because they were innocent. Do not make these life-altering mistakes.