Solidifying your criminal defense can make all the difference. Criminal convictions can have costs that go beyond the length of a prison sentence. Depending on the particular charges, your occupational license, license to drive, right to possess a firearm, or custodial rights may also hang in the balance.
Given these consequences, it is important to know the steps you can take to protect yourself if you are facing criminal charges.
Verbally Assert Your Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment provides a two-pronged privilege against self-incrimination. First, you cannot be forced to answer questions regarding criminal charges made against you. Second, the prosecution cannot use the fact of your silence as evidence of your guilt during trial.
In recent years, a highly contested court case has called into question the way the second prong of this protection is invoked. In the pertinent case, a suspect voluntarily answered some police questions but refrained from answering others. At trial, the prosecution was able to argue that his silence on certain questions suggested his guilt. The court ruled that had the suspect expressly indicated his intention to assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, the prosecution could not have used the fact of his silence against him.
The moral of the story is this: If you are charged with a crime, verbally assert your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and then do so.
Seek the Assistance of an Attorney
Another way to protect yourself if you are charged in a criminal case is to seek the assistance of an attorney. The Sixth Amendment provides that if you are charged with a crime, you have the right to consult an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, the court must provide one for you.
Whether you are facing a DUI or something more serious, the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between having a felony conviction on your permanent record and having charges mitigated or even dropped.
For example, if you are facing drug charges but the evidence against you is the result of an illegal search, an attorney may be able to get your case dismissed. If you are charged with a violent crime but have a mental health history, an attorney may be able to pursue a diminished capacity defense that could significantly mitigate your charges.
Often the earlier you enlist an attorney, whether court-appointed or private, the better your outcome will be.
Do Not Discuss Your Criminal Defense Case with Anyone Besides Your Attorney
Whether you have been rightly or wrongly accused, do not discuss your case with anyone but your attorney. Attorney-client privilege means your attorney cannot reveal your oral or written statements, or his or her own statements to you, to anyone.
This guaranteed confidentiality is imperative for an effective criminal defense and becomes meaningless if an accused decides to talk about the case with a third party. While your attorney cannot be asked to testify for or against you in court, your friends and neighbors can be compelled to testify about things you have told them. Sometimes a criminal defendant will invite a family member to sit in on a meeting with his or her attorney because the defendant values the person’s opinion.
Beware that the inclusion of a third party creates a risk that the meeting will be deemed not covered by attorney-client privilege. This means the third party could be compelled to testify about the meeting at trial.
Charged in a Criminal Case: The Takeaway
If you are charged in a criminal case, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and help ensure the best potential outcome. By verbally asserting your right to remain silent, seeking the assistance of an attorney, and refraining from discussing your case with others, you can improve your chances of a good outcome.