If you have been arrested or charged with any kind of misdemeanor or felony charge in Michigan, or nationwide, your future depends on many things under your control. Being a criminal defendant is a very traumatic and intimidating experience, but there are a number of things that you can do to improve your chances of avoiding a wrongful conviction.
Step One (Shut Up): The first thing to do is exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Among other protections, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. This means that you have a right to remain silent. This silence cannot be used against you in a court of law. Anything you say (and even non-verbal communication) can and will be used against you.
In the face of police presence, and certainly an interrogation, we all have the inclination to want to speak, to profess our innocence and to set the facts straight. If you’ve already been arrested, there’s likely very little you can do to improve your situation by speaking without first getting the advice of a competent criminal defense lawyer. Don’t think just because the police didn’t read you your “rights”, your “Miranda Rights”, that what you say won’t be used against you. This only pertains to custodial interrogation. A casual discussion when you are otherwise reasonably free to leave, can and will be used against you as well.
While it is common police practice to lie in order to obtain information from witnesses and criminal defendants, with no repercussions, if you lie to the police you could be charged with obstruction of justice. Hence, appreciate that when you are facing criminal charges, the police are not your friends, they have a job to do which is often diametrically opposed to your interests. You should keep your guard up and know your rights.
Police agencies regularly rely on audio and video evidence. Keep in mind that you are most likely on camera and everything you say and do is being recorded, which will potentially be evidence used against you. In a high profile case, expect this footage to make the news, which will further impact your life moving forward.
The one thing you can say, and you should say, is that you want to speak with a lawyer. The Sixth Amendment provides that a criminal defendant has a right “to have the Assistance of Counsel” in one’s defense. Simply advising the police that you intend to cooperate after speaking with an attorney should end the discussion with law enforcement. If they persist, keep repeating your request for an attorney and say nothing else. Keep in mind that anything and everything that you say to a law enforcement officer and for that matter, just about anyone else (there are some exceptions with regard to spouses), may be used against you.
So it is best to not speak about your case to anyone except a lawyer! Anything you tell to a lawyer that is consulting you is subject to the attorney-client privilege and, by law, is held in strict confidence.
Step Two (Get a Lawyer): There is a saying among lawyers that states “an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client”. Don’t be a fool, hire a reputable Michigan criminal defense lawyer. If you can’t afford an attorney, request court appointed counsel. You will most likely fare better with an attorney rather than going at it solo. If you are in jail when making contact, make sure you let your attorney know where you are, why you were arrested, if bond has been set, how much it is, and if there are family or friends to contact that may be able to assist you.
Keep every single piece of paper that you receive from law enforcement or court. You will need to provide these to your lawyer. There are certain deadlines that you must adhere to, especially when faced with a seizure or forfeiture of property and for refusing chemical tests. Also, evidence that can help you often has a tendency to disappear or be destroyed when in police custody, so any exculpatory evidence should be requested promptly. You should contact a Michigan criminal defense lawyer at your very earliest opportunity.
A reputable Michigan criminal defense lawyer will appear at your arraignment, and for some crimes may be able to waive formal arraignment so that you do not need to show up. This is especially helpful in the event that an arraigning judge would likely increase your bond conditions, which can include everything from daily drug and alcohol testing to additional cash postings and other things that will interfere with your day to day life.
Keep in mind that some crimes have minimum mandatory jail sentences. For example, for a conviction on a felony firearm charge in Michigan, the term of imprisonment is an automatic two years. So before you consider how much money you’ll save by not hiring an attorney, think about how much income you will lose by being in jail. Or for that matter, how much it will cost you to lose your driving privileges or to have a criminal record that you may have otherwise been avoided. You have a right to an attorney, use it.
The best way to defend your case is with an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer.
Marc Beginin is currently pursuing other non-legal business pursuits. Visit https://lrs.michbar.org/ for the State Bar of Michigan lawyer referral service.