When should you hire an attorney?
A common question clients often have is "when is the right time to actually hire an attorney?". Right after they have an encounter with police? Before they are actually charged with anything? Before they go to court? After they've spoken to the prosecutor in court? When a spouse says they want to separate, or after they've actually filed for divorce? Sometimes people are concerned that retaining an attorney will make them look guilty, or will escalate things with the other party.
In criminal cases, hiring an attorney does not make a person look guilty. In fact, it shows the police and prosecutor that you are serious about protecting your rights and are going to stand up for yourself. Many people assume that if they haven't done anything wrong, everything will work out for them. After all, we have the greatest justice system in the world, right?
Unfortunately, many innocent people are accused of crimes they did not commit. Even when a person has done something wrong, police and prosecutors often "over charge" people, meaning that they charge them with a far more serious crime than what actually occurred.
In criminal cases, I advise people to speak to an attorney as soon possible after they have had an encounter with police, even if the police did not arrest them. Why? In some cases, the police want to do more investigation or speak with a supervisor before deciding whether to arrest someone. If you have hired an attorney right away, your attorney can speak to the officer involved in your case. In some cases, your attorney can even prevent you from ever being charged in the first place.
If the police are going to charge you no matter what, your attorney can at least speak to them about not issuing a warrant and arranging for you to turn yourself in, sparing you the embarrassment and stress of being arrested at your home or work and spending the night in jail. In some cases, your attorney can negotiate with the police to issue you a summons (a ticket) rather than issuing a warrant for your arrest. Sometimes your attorney can go to the jail with you and have your bail pre-arranged so that you can be released quickly.
The things that happen in the very early stages of the case often dictate what will happen in the long term, and having an attorney on your side will ensure that your rights are protected and any damage is limited.
Overall, attorneys are familiar with the system and the people involved. If police and prosecutors see that you have an attorney, they know that someone is protecting you and watching everything that they do. It may make them take a closer look at your case and decide if they really want to go forward. You will not regret having an advocate by your side as soon as possible.