FIVE IMPORTANT RULES TO REMEMBER WHEN BEING INVESTIGATED FOR COMMITTING ANY ALLEGED CRIME

What should you do if you have reason to believe you’re being investigated for committing a crime? In Tampa Bay, Florida law enforcement officers often have many open files under consideration at any one time. How do officers determine which cases to investigate first? Criminal cases are investigated based on the severity of the crime, the nature of the crime and the time when the alleged crime occurred. 

Crimes involving violence such as domestic battery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault or murder are likely to result in an immediate investigation, whereas crimes involving dishonesty such as grand theft, petty theft or fraud are likely to be investigated more leisurely. The nature of the crime and the apparent threat to the well being of the community dictate the speed of most investigations.

Clearly it’s within the very nature of some alleged crimes to attract a law enforcement investigation even as the alleged crime takes place. This is true of any crime that occurs in front of an officer such as, fleeing and eluding, DUI or driving while license suspended or revoked. 

Yet no matter what the time frame is for an investigation to be initiated, the same general rules apply as to how to deal with any police investigation of alleged misconduct. Here are five basic rules in dealing with a crime investigation.

  1. If an officer asks questions about a crime that give the impression you’re being investigated for that crime, then the general rule is to not answer. You’re not going to simply be able to talk your way out of suspicion.
  2. Further, always tell the investigator that you want to speak to your lawyer before you’ll agree to talk. While waiting for the lawyer you’ll have time to collect your thoughts, to plan what you may want to say in the future when the lawyer arrives and to be certain that whatever you may decide to say is what you mean to say. But before speaking to officers, talk to your lawyer, then make an informed decision as to whether you really want to risk cooperating by obeying police commands or requests.
  3. Do not agree to any kind of search of your home, office, car or bags unless the investigating officer has a signed search warrant. Often officers will give you the false impression that you may be allowed to go free even if contraband or criminal evidence is found. But it’s important to remember that officers never have an obligation to be honest as to whether an arrest will be made and that most officer’s who fail to make an arrest when evidence is seized may be disciplined. Once consent  is given to a search, the investigator will use that consent to search for unlawful conduct so never give police consent to search in Florida. 
  4. Remember that Detectives are looking for clues to an alleged crime not a new best friend. It’s always beneficial to be as friendly, polite, respectful and as nonthreatening as possible, though there’s little to be gained by trying to be charming or well liked. Don’t be seduced into believing a Detective likes you enough to help you.
  5. It’s well known in the criminal justice system that the greatest risk to officer safety comes not during investigations of murders, robberies or burglaries, but from the simple investigations involving domestic battery cases when good people may be seen at their worst. The one thing you can control during this process is yourself. After the law enforcement officer meets you he’ll later note your demeanor in his written report make certain that your interactions with the officer are consistent with what you want to be written about you in the report.

If you believe that you’re under investigation for any crime, give me a call and I’ll do my best to help you make the best possible decisions for your future so that you can go on living and stop worrying.

HOW TUNNEL VISION PERSUADES PROSECUTORS TO REJECT EVIDENCE OF INNOCENCE IN CRIMINAL CASES

Under American law prosecutors have a unique responsibility to not only enforce the law but to ensure that justice is done. Yet time after time even when confronted with exonerating DNA evidence overzealous  prosecutors fight post conviction relief. 

In a book by two psychologists called Mistakes Were Made (but not by me!): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts, the authors detail how and why prosecutors insist on guilt even when they find overwhelming evidence of innocence. Deceptive blinders, tunnel vision and self justification create a situation where a prosecutor believing himself to be good couldn’t possibly be the kind of person who sends the wrong man to prison and ignores all evidence that contradicts that assessment. 

Law professors also delved into the problem in an essay called The Multiple Dimensions of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Cases noting that over 170 people convicted of heinous crimes have been proven innocent by DNA evidence since 1990, but that hundreds more have been exonerated over that time period with other evidence establishing that the criminal justice system fails to accurately determine guilt. Even in preliminary stages of criminal cases rather than merely accumulating only the evidence required to convict, prosecutors should also be looking at contradictory evidence of innocence. 

The American Bar Association sets forth the obligations for any prosecutor who learns of “new, credible and material evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a convicted defendant did not commit an offense of which the defendant was convicted.” The prosecutor shall:

(1) promptly disclose that evidence to an appropriate court or authority, and
(2) if the conviction was obtained in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction,
(i) promptly disclose that evidence to the defendant unless a court authorizes delay, and
(ii) undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.
(h) When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.

The requirements for prosecutors are clear. Seek justice promptly especially if the initial conviction was in error. The solution to the psychological problem of prosecutor’s tunnel vision and of not wanting to admit mistakes is to punish the overzealous prosecutors. Those prosecutors who fail in their obligations to seek justice promptly should not be fired, but should also be stripped of their law licenses.

Too often prosecutors acting in bad faith betray the criminal justice system by misusing their authority by bullying innocent defendants into changing pleas with threats and additional criminal charges or by ignoring important evidence of innocence for those already falsely convicted.