I am a former prosecuting attorney, but have devoted most of my career to defending criminal defendants. It is a privilege to work at The Huntley Law Firm with a team of good lawyers with diverse experience. I like that LegalShield (LS) helps members solve many problems without a lawyer, and provides legal resources for under market cost when a lawyer is necessary.
At the outset of becoming a criminal defendant, or even a “person of interest,” you don’t need to know the law. You don’t need to know what is likely to happen, or if the authorities are “right, wrong or off base.”
YOU DO NEED: To keep quiet. Please see the numbered instructions below for instructions on how, and its effects in two common situations.
ENTERING THE SYSTEM: Virtually all defendants begin their journey through the legal system without an attorney. They enter in two principal ways: they are either (1) arrested or (2) summoned (a traffic ticket contains a summons at the bottom; whether the defendant signs is of no consequence; he is formally served). Less commonly they are (3) approached to “talk” as part of an ongoing investigation.
After first, foremost and continuously refraining from talking, you must get out of jail, if in custody. In all cases you need to step back with your trusted advisors and support system. LS is perhaps one of the best. We like to think we know a lot that can help. But first help yourself.
This article tells you how.
NAVIGATING OUT: Getting out of jail occurs in isolation from the support system necessary to make the absolutely best decision. Deciding how to respond to a summons likewise requires learning all the options, and how to best use your limited resources to protect your interests. So my advice is: know that you likely have a support system. Use it. Lawyers can come later.
Legal Shield’s Emergency Line is invaluable for friends and family calling on your behalf. It is less useful as defendants’ “one phone call” from jail. Only if you have a summons for a court date, or approached by law enforcement to “talk,” should you use this. Only after securing release from jail will it be of much use. Instead, in the two most common situations (arrest or summons):
- Do not talk to any member of law enforcement about the situation. Ask for a lawyer.
- Ask for a lawyer clearly, from the beginning, and repeatedly.
- If you can’t get one by your side, police are obligated to get you a court-appointed lawyer — or stop asking questions.
- In the case of traffic stops involving alcohol, there is an exception to this for evidentiary testing. That involves officer-initiated conversation as a “tool of investigation.” To protect yourself, say as little as possible. Let the test(s) speak for themselves.
- If arrested, See RULE ONE.
- If arrested, BOND OUT with cash if you can raise it from family or friends. Use a surety bond company if you cannot.
- Legal defenses available can always be applied after release;
- Release alone will materially improve your case.
- If summoned – or approached by law enforcement as part of an investigation — call the LS main line. Do it in sufficient time to learn what you can do before the court date, or before law enforcement wants to see you.
- You can discuss — at length with LS, not law enforcement — the nature of the allegations. You can learn what is going on. You can develop a plan for marshaling available legal assistance.
- In most (misdemeanor) cases, you will be able to avoid going to court if you are in a position to obtain counsel.
THE ROLE OF THE LAWYER: LS’ Emergency Line and 4-hour callback by an attorney are always available. Either before a summons is received, after you are out of jail, if you are a “person of interest,” or if you are actually in custody. However, as noted above, getting out is the most important thing.; It is either unimportant or even a diversion – at the stage of being in custody – to try to understand why you’re there, or if it’s right or wrong.
This is why I strongly recommend marshaling your personal supportive resources – if in custody – prior to using LS’ Emergency Line. The best thing defendants can do for themselves is be silent. Lawyers can do the rest. And we can do it later, if we have a defendant who’s out and not in.
If a bond is too high for release, you will likely receive a public defender. Your rights will be protected. Defendants can change attorneys at any time, and substitute a LS or any other attorney for the public defender. When you and your support system arrange for your release, you can evaluate this option with them and with LS.
SUMMARY: The main point of this note: LS members are in a position to step back from the overwhelming stress and strangeness of criminal charges. Because they have immediate access to attorneys, they can focus and act on what can be done in the short term. LS has many resources early, often and as criminal cases go forward. This note should equip you with what you need in the very beginning, before legal resources are really needed. Call us early, often and whenever a problem with law enforcement is possible.