How to Protect Yourself if Charged with a Crime

Leon Mezzetti, Criminal Defense Attorney

Perhaps this is the first time you have been arrested. Maybe you have been through the system a time or two before, and think you know what will happen. However, many people charged with a crime have no idea what they need to do to protect themselves and their rights in a criminal proceeding. An experienced attorney can help you understand your options, and be an advocate for your best interests.

Police may contact you as part of an ongoing investigation, or they may question you after an arrest. They already know what has happened, and really, they hope you make their job easier. A common mistake people make when talking to law enforcement is thinking that they can talk their way out of trouble. The reality of the situation is that the investigating agency has handled hundreds, if not thousands of cases just like yours. They know what to look for and what to ask.

When you speak with police, you are not talking to your representative. They have no obligation to assert your rights for you. Questions that seem harmless to you may have major implications on many aspects of your life, such as your freedom, employment, or, if you are an immigrant, your ability to remain in this country. They are trying to get your story on paper, so that if you change it later, you dig a bigger hole for yourself. Even if you have not committed a crime, it is still important for you to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you prepare your side of the story.

If the prosecution then decides to bring charges against you and take the case to trial, you need someone on your side who understands the criminal justice system. Prosecutors may offer you a deal, but that deal may not be in your best interests. They are not going to tell you about any defenses that help your case. Working with an attorney can be a positive step toward getting charges reduced or perhaps even thrown out altogether.

When sentenced after conviction, an attorney can help you learn about possible rehabilitation opportunities. For example, if you have been charged with a drug crime, the prosecution may offer you a chance to go into treatment and possibly avoid having a conviction on your record. California is a "three strikes" state. Three felony convictions and you could be facing life in prison. Having someone to walk you through the agreement can prevent surprises in the future.

One of the most overlooked aspects of a criminal conviction is the effect it has on immigration status. For certain crimes, a conviction will have you facing deportation. Prosecutors may even draw up plea agreements that will make deportation a requirement of the deal. For immigrants, it is essential to speak with an experienced attorney who can carefully explain all the implications of being convicted of a crime.

For further reading: Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge