Hiring a lawyer for representation in a federal criminal case is crucial. After all, depending on the charges against you, a conviction could result in decades of imprisonment, enormous fines and the loss of various rights. However, the question of when to hire a federal criminal defense attorney comes into question. At first glance, it makes sense to wait until after charges have been filed against you before you seek legal counsel. With a closer look at the value that a lawyer provides to your case, you will see that the best time to hire a defense lawyer is as soon as you learn that you are under investigation.
Representation Through the Pre-Arrest Investigation
In some cases, federal criminal charges are reactive. For example, if you rob a bank, you may be arrested quickly and without an extensive investigation. For charges related to fraud, embezzlement, sex crimes and more, charges are filed after an extensive investigation. If you are the subject of an extended investigation, you may be questioned several times over the course of months or even years. You may also be served search warrants, a grand jury subpoena or a target letter.
It is important that you cooperate throughout the pre-arrest investigation as much as is required by law, but your lawyer could advise you about where to draw the line. Without legal counsel at this stage, you may be uncertain about which actions you should and should not take. Keep in mind that the authorities are building a case against you. While they must act within the realm of the law and not violate your rights, they are not looking out for your best interests.
Protection Against Self-Incrimination
Both your statements and your actions may unintentionally incriminate you if you are the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Keep in mind that anything you say to law enforcement officials could be used against you in court, and this includes seemingly casual questioning when authorities drop by unannounced. Authorities may be monitoring your actions, and they could even have a warrant to tap your phone and other communication devices.
Your federal criminal defense attorney will ideally have experience working on similar cases. He or she will be aware of tactics and techniques that law enforcement officials may use to gather evidence. Through that expertise and through legal representation during questioning, you may avoid self-incrimination. Keep in mind that self-incrimination could make the difference between charges being dropped versus filed. Self-incrimination could also impact the severity of the charges that will be filed against you in the future.
Safeguard Your Rights
You have numerous rights that are protected by the Constitution. These rights include those established by case law and by Congress over the years. You may be familiar with your right to a jury trial and the right to be assumed innocent until proven to be guilty in a court of law. You also have Miranda rights, which must be read to you at the time of the arrest. Any time you are questioned by authorities, even if you have not yet been arrested, you have the right to have an attorney present. This is not an admission of guilt. Instead, it is a way to ensure that authorities do not overstep and that the investigation and questioning are aboveboard at all times. Your attorney will ensure that all of your rights are upheld even before charges have been filed.
Time to Build a Strong Defense
Because many federal criminal charges are filed after an investigation that lasts for months or even years, the prosecutor undoubtedly has a strong case built against you. Authorities cover all of their bases by investigating crimes from every angle. When you involve your attorney in the matter at this late stage in the game, you are giving him or her very little time to prepare a defense. It makes sense that your attorney should have as much time to prepare the defense as the prosecution has to build a case against you. There is always a chance that an investigation may not lead to charges filed. However, when you are facing the possibility of spending decades in prison and dealing with other punishments, you want to have the strongest and most thorough defense presented in court.
Do you have a reason to believe that you are being investigated for a federal criminal matter? While you understandably want to have legal representation as soon as possible, you should take the time to hire the right attorney for the job. Ideally, your attorney will have extensive experience dealing with the types of crimes that you may be charged with.
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