Top Three Signs You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney

In God we trust… all others are suspects.

How do you know you need to call some guy like me?  Sounds simple enough, right?  If you’ve ever asked the question (even quietly in your own head), that’s a good thing.  If you’re operating under the assumption that you’ll never need the advice of a criminal defense attorney, you might want to check that.

It’s not just the “accused” who could benefit from my advice.  I’ve also represented witnesses and even people that aren’t related to a crime in any way.  You’d think witnesses not involved in crimes would have nothing to worry about.  Some (certainly not all) of those trained police investigators have a knack for making anybody they talk to uncomfortable, though.  All I’m saying is that somebody once coined the phrase, “In God we trust… all others are considered suspects” and it wasn’t a guy like me.

I know that there’s a line of thinking that calling an attorney makes you look guilty.  I’ve talked a little bit before about how refusing to submit to whatever the police want will make you look guilty.  If you’re so caught up in not “looking” guilty to the police, then you can probably stop reading.  I’m more worried about looking guilty to a judge or jury.  The police can think what they want… they probably already do.

Easy enough for me to say, right?  I’m on the “giving” end of the advice, not on the “is it panic time… feels like panic time… what do I do now?” end of things.  I’ve actually been on both, though.  I guess you could paraphrase Cy Sperling’s famous “Hair Club for Men” commercials, and say I’m not only a criminal defense lawyer- I’m also a client.

Now you’re curious about my arrest, right?  Sadly (or not), I was never arrested. In January of 2007, however, I stepped out of the office for lunch.  I returned no more than 30 minutes later.  When I did, the office building was up in smoke and the fire department was busting through the windows.

Turns out that the building caught a case of the burndown while I was eating.  Obviously the police came to ask questions.  Nothing major- the building had been having serious electrical problems and there was an electrician there the day before.  The fire was in the basement where the electrical stuff was housed.

I told them where I was.  Then the fire marshal showed up.  He asked some questions.  I won’t bore you with the details, but in the hours that subsequently passed, more investigators showed up (including the ATF and their super-sniffing dog).  At this point, the questioning starts getting a little more intense, they’re not letting us see what they’re removing from the building, and they’re starting to ask a lot of the same stuff over and over.   I don’t have much patience for that- neither did the attorney I worked with at the time.  So we basically told them we were done with the questions.  Then I called a couple of criminal defense attorneys I know.

Did I burn down the building? Absolutely not. I was stuffing my face at Quiznos at the time.  Did I look guilty calling a lawyer?  I don’t care. I did care about knowing I had good, objective advice if I needed it.  I share this little anecdote only to demonstrate that there are a couple of sure-fire ways to tell if you should call a criminal defense lawyer.  Whether or not you are guilty doesn’t make a difference.

The following are not all of the signs- far from it, actually.  They are simply three of the largest “red flags”.  If you see any of them, you should be contacting an attorney right away.

Without further interruption here are three of the biggest signs that you need a criminal defense lawyer:

1. The police want to talk to you at the station.

You’ve been talking to the police (which, really, means you haven’t been reading up on things).  Now they’re asking you to come to the police station and talk to them there.  They’ll even give you a ride in the back of their squad car.  They might even tell you that you’re not under arrest.  Why not, right?  What could it hurt?

The reality is that they’re taking you there because it’s a much more controlled environment.  Police “interview” rooms and process are not only controlled, they’re the subject of countless hours and years of psychological research.  I can already tell you what that room is going to look like.  Watch police interrogations on youtube, and look at the lack of variety in the way the rooms are setup.  Think that’s an accident?

They want you in their controlled world because they’re not getting something out of you that they think they already should have– even if you are not the suspect.  They are suspicious of what you are saying.  You have an absolute right to have an attorney present for advice when they speak to you. More importantly, you have a right to that advice before you even walk in.  If they want to talk to you at the station, call an attorney.  Don’t think about it, just do it.

2. They are reading you your Miranda rights or telling you that you have a right to remain silent.

Despite how TV makes it look, the police do not have to read you the Miranda rights whenever they talk to you.  They only have to read them in certain circumstances and, generally, don’t want to read them to you if they don’t have to.  Logically, then, if they are reading it is because they think it is required by law.

When the man with the badge and the gun is telling you that you can call somebody to give you advice on how to deal with the man who has the badge and the gun, think it might make sense to take his suggestion?  I’m not going to get to technical, but it’s safe to assume that if the police feel the need to read you your rights, you should feel the need to call an attorney.  Immediately.  And, you need to tell them that as directly and unequivocally as possible.  Can it get any more clear cut then when the police are talking to you about criminal defense attorneys?  I’d like to say not but, in reality, the vast majority of people (guilty or otherwise) talk to the police.

Oddly enough, this seems to be one of the times people most fear what the police will “think” if they ask for a lawyer.  As simple as it looks on paper, this is probably the most ignored suggestion in all of criminal law.  All I can do is throw it out there.  Ignore it if you want.

3. Things get weird.

I can’t give you an absolute idea of what “weird” is other than to to tell you to trust your gut.  If something a police officer said does not sit well, or a question he asked seemed out of the ordinary, it’s best to talk it over with a lawyer.  This could happen at any stage of a police officer’s investigation, and in any investigation (big or small).  Stopped for speeding and he asks if you “have anything you shouldn’t” in the car?  That’s odd, isn’t it?

If you want to be a legal Jedi, you’re going to have to learn to use the force.

This is exactly what happened the day of our fire.  The tone of the investigation went from “this is electrical, we will be out of here soon” to “where was so-and-so” or “why isn’t the secretary here… is she usually here now?”  Despite my best Jedi mind-trick (“this isn’t the burned building you’re looking for”) my gut told me that the law enforcement mob out there that day was getting testy.  So, I called my guys.  When your gut tells you the same, don’t fight it. Embrace the force and call a lawyer.

Like I said above, these three signs are far from exhaustive.  If you see any of them, though, your thoughts shouldn’t be on whether to call a criminal defense lawyer but on which one to call. For that, I can’t help you.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

2 thoughts on “Top Three Signs You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney”

  1. I thought it was interesting that this brought up representing witnesses, because I didn’t know there could even be legal danger with witnesses. I also disagree that calling an attorney makes you look guilty, because it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that you want to be represented the best you can.

  2. My brother recently got arrested. He hasn’t been sure whether or not to hire a criminal defense attorney. I told him that any arrest is serious and a lawyer could help. I like that you mentioned that if the police tells you you can call somebody for legal advice, then that is a pretty good sign you need a lawyer. I will have to share this with my brother.

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