I am under a police investigation but have not been charged yet. Do I need a lawyer?
Yes, if you’re under investigation, you need a lawyer even if you haven’t been charged with anything yet. Why? To avoid being charged at all.
First, let’s get one thing straight—for police, “under investigation” usually means “building a case.” Police often have a preconceived notion of what happened in a case, and they’re looking for evidence corroborating that notion. In other words, the “investigation” is not neutral and evenhanded. If police come across evidence that doesn’t help them build their case, they’ll ignore it.
So what can a criminal lawyer do for you? A few things. First, by hiring a lawyer, you’re building a wall between you and the police. If the police want to talk to you, they need to go through your lawyer first. This is crucial because police prey on suspects when they’re at their weakest, cajoling them into giving incriminating statements that help police build their case. With a lawyer by your side, though, the ball is in your court—you decide what information you want to give police, what information you want to hold back, and whether you want to talk to police at all. As any experienced attorney will tell you, even if you’re innocent of any wrongdoing, talking to police is often ill advised. Relatedly, a lawyer can advise you whether to take a polygraph examination, an important decision in many cases.
Second, a lawyer can communicate behind the scenes with the prosecutor. It’s the prosecutor who ultimately decides whether you get charged, not the police. Normally, the prosecutor makes this decision based on the police report, the final product of the one-sided “investigation.” But when the prosecutor knows that a suspect has a lawyer, it can prompt the prosecutor to keep the police honest in their investigation. And a lawyer can provide the prosecutor with evidence that the police have ignored or overlooked, which can influence the prosecutor’s charging decision.
Which leads to another reason to hire a lawyer—to do the investigation the police won’t. With help from a private investigator, a lawyer can run down leads the police refuse to. A lawyer may even be able to uncover evidence proving your innocence. But you need to act fast before the prosecutor makes a charging decision. By the time a suspect is already charged, certain avenues of investigation are forever closed.
So if you’re under investigation, hire a lawyer as soon as possible. If you act quickly, a lawyer can ensure that you never get charged in the first place.