Top Criminal Law Mistakes
Mistake 1: Speaking With Child Protective Services Investigators, Police Or Federal Authorities
After an arrest, it’s natural to want to tell your side of the story: you only had a couple of drinks before driving, your child is troubled but innocent, the victim lied or exaggerated past events. DON’T DO THIS.
Authorities will not “un-arrest” you, and they are unlikely to believe your story. It is more likely that the things you tell them during and after an arrest will be used against you in court — perhaps misquoted or taken out of context.
There is a time and a place to speak to the authorities, but the stressful and frightening moment of your arrest is not that time. Before you talk to the police, talk to me first.
Mistake 2: Speaking With The Alleged “Victim”
After an arrest, you may feel a strong desire to contact the alleged “victim.” You may believe that you can resolve the problem between the two of you and come to a resolution. Perhaps you have been friends or a family member of the “victim.” DON’T.
Speaking with the alleged victim can severely damage your case. You could be accused of attempting to tamper with a witness, harass the victim or solicit perjury. These accusations will leave you jail for the duration of the case.
It is the role of the attorney and the attorney’s investigators to speak with the victim. It is best to leave this task to me.
Mistake 3: Speaking About Your Case With Family Or Friends
After an arrest, it’s normal to seek guidance from your loved ones — you may be tempted to discuss your case at length with friends, family and co-workers. DON’T.
Your loved ones are not your attorney. Though it is rare, they can be called up to testify against you in court. They can also be interviewed by authorities outside the courtroom, and the information gained from these interviews can be used against you.
Before speaking to your loved ones about your case, speak to your attorney. Your attorney is the only person who is completely safe to speak to, because you will be protected by the rules of attorney-client confidentiality. He or she will be able to explain how confidentiality laws will apply to your case.
Mistake 4: Talking On The Jail Phone Or With Fellow Inmates Or Jail Staff About Your Case
Unless you are speaking with your lawyer on the “lawyer phone,” EVERY JAIL PHONE CALL IS RECORDED AND CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU. That’s right — every jail phone call is recorded. There are huge data centers that store digital jail telephone call recordings indefinitely. Expect that anything you say about your case will later be played in court.
What about fellow inmates and jail staff? Expect that jail staff will speak with the police and prosecutors, and that fellow inmates are watching you. If you tell fellow inmates anything that makes you look guilty, they can “trade” that information to cut their own sentences, and they frequently do this – sometimes even misconstruing what you do and say. When you are in jail, you have virtually no rights of privacy. Don’t make the government’s job easier.
Mistake 5: Defending Yourself Or Delaying In Hiring An Attorney
Defending someone is much more complicated than staying abreast of complicated and ever-changing laws. When did you last speak in public in defense of your freedom? Criminal defense is a complex and challenging area of the law, and the stakes are very high for those attempting to defend themselves. It is important, therefore, to work with an experienced attorney who has proven skills in preparing a case and negotiating with authorities.
It is also important to hire an experienced lawyer right away – there may be evidence that you will need to defend yourself that can be lost. An experienced lawyer will meet with you right away to make sure that your rights are protected and the evidence is secured. Those who defend themselves in the early stages the process often make mistakes; some of these mistakes can be undone, while others are permanent.
Mistake 6: Taking The Advice Of Nonlawyers
If you are fortunate enough to have loved ones and friends on your side, they may have legal experiences of their own, or their experiences might be limited to what they see on TV during the news, televised proceedings or even shows like CSI. The problem is that every case is different; what applies in one situation may not apply to you. What happens on TV seldom represents the reality of court, and might be completely unrealistic. Plus, you might disclose confidences and strategy that can hurt you. Take advice from the experienced lawyer you have hired and in whom you placed your trust.
If you need a second opinion, go out and hire another lawyer to render it. You have that right, and it might really help you out. An experienced lawyer who is looking out for your interests will welcome another opinion, not get defensive or “hurt.” It’s your life and freedom that are at issue, not the lawyer’s career or paycheck.
Mistake 7: Waiting To Hire An Experienced Attorney
Sometimes, those accused of crimes first hire a less expensive attorney who does not have the experience, skills or resources to effectively handle their case. This attempt at saving money can end up costing a great deal in the end — when you eventually switch attorneys and hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer, your new legal team will be forced to spend time and energy undoing the mistakes made by your previous attorney.
Furthermore, not all mistakes can be undone. If an inexperienced lawyer failed to take advantage of opportunities that arose early in the process, that failure could have a serious negative effect on your case further down the line.
Mistake 8: Taking A Police Polygraph
While polygraphs (lie detectors) are not generally admissible in court, they play an important role in criminal cases and sometimes are used to “clear” people of charges. DON’T TAKE A POLICE POLYGRAPH WITHOUT SPEAKING WITH AN EXPERIENCED LAWYER FIRST.
Polygraphs are used most often by the police as an interrogation tool and to confirm what they already believe to be true and get a confession. They are often used as part of a “good cop/bad cop” routine, where a suspect has denied involvement in a crime, and the police offer the “opportunity” to take a polygraph to clear charges, but what they are really expecting is that the suspect will “fail.” When the suspect “fails,” the police use the “fail” to put psychological pressure on the suspect – pushing hard for a confession since “the test doesn’t lie.”
Mistake 9: Believing That A Private Lawyer Is “Too Expensive”
Though you may have access to a public defender in your criminal case, it is still important to consider hiring an experienced private attorney. While there are many talented public defenders in Oregon, the fact is public defenders carry much heavier caseloads than private attorneys. This makes it difficult for even the most skilled public defenders to devote a significant amount of time to each case.
There are a number of reasons to choose an experienced private attorney. First, as a private attorney, I provide personalized criminal defense services that are hand-tailored to suit your unique case. This ensures that your case receives the full attention it requires, and that no opportunity is overlooked when planning your defense strategy.
Second, because of my experience, I will not be “reinventing the wheel” with every case. I can make arguments that I’ve made before, use research that I’ve compiled in other cases, employ techniques that I’ve taught other lawyers, and I probably know just the right expert to use in your defense. I use PowerPoint to increase effectiveness and am comfortable with technology in the courtroom. Plus, I have very experienced staff and am highly tech savvy – we use digital tools to review, organize and investigate your case.
Third, a skilled lawyer can have your case dismissed, under certain circumstances. This will allow you to avoid the stress, time commitment and cost of extended criminal proceedings.
Fourth, since I’m known for trying cases, I can often use that reputation to quickly negotiate favorable plea bargains with prosecutors. A favorable plea bargain enables you to avoid the expense and risk that comes with a trial.
Finally, it’s important to hire the right lawyer the first time – it makes no sense to hire someone in whom you lose faith in a month or two, then incur the extra expense and stress of finally hiring an experienced lawyer in whom you believe.
Mistake 10: Not Being Completely Honest With Your Lawyer
Imagine you went to the doctor complaining of chest pains. Would you withhold important information from him or her? Without a complete understanding of your physical condition, the doctor may prescribe medical treatments that could harm you.
As your attorney, I need to know every detail of your situation. It is extremely important that you answer my questions completely and honestly. I do not judge my clients, and everything said to me is absolutely confidential. Once I have a complete understanding of your legal situation, I will be able to craft a defense strategy designed to effectively protect your rights and freedom.
Mistake 11: The Case Against Me Is Overwhelming; There’s Nothing An Experienced Lawyer Can Do To Help
This is a common mistake. A lot of lawyers don’t like tough cases – not me. I love the challenge of a tough case, and doing my very best to win the unwinnable case. Trial work is unpredictable. After years and years of trying cases, I can tell you that even the tough ones are winnable if you catch a break, have the right theory and believe. I’ve won cases with very sympathetic victims (robbery and assault against a woman in a wheelchair), terrible injuries (horrible double black eyes, stab wound to the neck), impossible facts (assault against someone whose client had previously been convicted of assaulting) and cases with confessions that are presented to the jury. Lots of lawyers never try confession cases if the confession comes into court. I’ve done it, and I’ve beaten confession cases.
In every case I believe that the lawyer should prepare for trial and prepare for sentencing — that way he or she is ready in either situation. An experienced lawyer prepares the presumed innocent (but likely to be found guilty) client by humanizing him or her, looking for the very best in his or her past, negotiating the best outcome possible, and presenting him or her in his or her best possible light in court through friends, family, co-workers and appropriate experts. And when you hire an experienced trial lawyer, prosecutors will know that your lawyer isn’t afraid to try the tough cases, and sometimes wins them, and so you’re likely to get a better deal.
Mistake 12: Allowing A Warrantless Search And Seizure
Another big mistake is when people allow the police to search their home, work or car without a warrant. The U.S. Constitution does not allow this. DON’T give the cops permission to search your belongings without a proper warrant.
Mistake 13: Hiring The Most Expensive Attorney
It may not be wise to hire the least expensive lawyer in the city, but it is not necessarily a good idea to hire the most expensive one either. Instead, put some effort into finding the lawyer that is right for you.
When choosing a legal representative, it is important to research local attorneys and develop a good understanding of their reputation and professional histories. Find an attorney who has experience with the legal issues you are facing — if he or she has worked similar cases in the past, he or she may be able to handle your case more effectively and efficiently.
In addition, it is very important that you work with a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable. Trust is a valuable part of the attorney-client relationship, so it is best to seek out a lawyer with whom you can be honest and sincere.
Mistake 14: Demanding To Play A Very Active Role In Your Defense
It is not uncommon for individuals to mistrust lawyers. Some attorneys deserve this reputation, but many do not. However, when you find the lawyer you want to fight for your freedoms, letting that lawyer do his or her job is essential. A good attorney will keep you informed and ask when he or she needs you to jump in. Attempting to be actively involved without your attorney specifically requesting it can be very counterproductive to your case since it will eat up time your lawyer could have been spending with investigations.
Mistake 15: Rejecting The State’s Plea Deal Without Considering The Risk
It is very common for those accused of a crime to be offered a plea deal. These plea offers can include reduced charges and amended sentencing recommendations.
You are under no obligation to accept a plea deal. However, you should carefully consider every offer and discuss the matter with your legal counsel. An experienced attorney will have a good understanding of the risks and challenges you will face if you go to trial, as well the overall favorability of the plea offer. Accept or reject a plea deal only after an in-depth conversation with your lawyer.