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Should I have a lawyer with me when I speak to an investigator?

You just got a phone from an investigator. He asked that you come down to the police station to talk with them because they are investigating a murder and want to know if you can help them out. Maybe they want to see what a friend of yours was doing that night. Maybe they want to see what you were doing that night. Maybe they just want to know what you have heard. You walk into the room with the investigator and notice that there is a recorder on the phone. The investigator tells you to ignore the recorder and asks that you sign a piece of paper that says that you do not want a lawyer present. It could be that you do not think anything of it, because you did not do anything; but it could also be that you do not think anything of it because you think that the investigator is not going to find out anything. Maybe, if you were involved, talking to the investigator will help get you out of any potential trouble. Regardless, you do not have anything to worry about, right? Wrong.

Everybody knows the standard rule: anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. The moment that law enforcement starts talking to you (even if you really did not have anything to do with the underlying crime) is the moment that you need a lawyer. The investigator my try to bully you and they may even go so far as to say that innocent people do not need a lawyer. When it comes to talking to anyone during an investigation, the best advice is to always have a lawyer present, because it can and will make a difference.

I handled a case recently where the client was interviewed by an investigator. My client was not charged with the underlying crime, but the investigator wanted to check out a few alibis. The client, not wanting anything to do with the case, told the investigator that he did not know anything about one of the suspects. After the interview, the client went about his normal day, while the investigator went about his. Several days later, the investigator passes the client on the road, and sees the client and suspect in the same vehicle. A day after that, the client was arrested for hindering a prosecution. Why? Because he lied to the investigator about knowing the suspect.

Hindering prosecution is a serious crime, and a person is typically charged with it when they either hide information or evidence from law enforcement. It is an incredibly easy charge to catch, but it is also incredibly easy to avoid. While it is always a good idea to cooperate with law enforcement during any sort of investigation, you, as an American citizen, have an absolute right to have your lawyer present with you when speaking with law enforcement. In my client’s case, he could have easily avoided the charge by being honest at the beginning OR by simply saying “I want my lawyer with me.” Saying that you want a lawyer with you does not mean that you are guilty. Rather, it simply means that you are smarter than the average bear. Luckily, for the client, we worked with the investigator to explain that his reason for lying was not because he was trying to protect his friend, but rather was because he did not want to be involved (even though his statement ultimately ended up helping his friend). It worked out for him, but more often than not, it does not work out for others.

The moral of the story is simple: always have a lawyer with you.

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