An arrest is a pivotal moment in a criminal case, and while it's often highly stressful event, defendants must maintain their cool. Many things are happening very quickly, but it's important to recognize that this is not the last word. In fact, it's just the beginning. Yet in such a critical time, a careless suspect could harm his or her chance of successfully beating the charges.
By understanding what will happen during an arrest, a suspect will be better able to protect his or her constitutional rights throughout the arrest process. Consult with a Scranton criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest. This is an individual you can trust to advise you against saying something or acting in a way that could compromise your opportunity for a favorable outcome.
Your Right to Remain Silent and Right to Counsel
Thanks to the well-known Miranda Warnings, many suspects are familiar with the right to remain silent. However, few know how to properly invoke this right. Unfortunately, speaking to the police can have damning consequences in later prosecution proceedings. This is a lesson one defendant learned the hard way before being convicted on capital murder charges.
The Morning Call reports that the defendant was sentenced to death after being convicted for killing two state troopers. Among the evidence used to convict him was video footage of a three-hour interrogation to which the defendant voluntarily submitted after being arrested. According to the Times-Tribune, the footage shows the defendant’s admission that he fired the shots. While he never explicitly admitted to a motive, state law does not require the prosecution to prove a motive in murder cases. As a result of this, and other evidence, the defendant was sentenced to death.
This is not to say police and prosecutors may not have other evidence, but a first-hand confession is generally compelling. You can avoid this by refusing to speak to law enforcement or answer anything but basic identifying information until you have had the opportunity to speak with your defense lawyer.
After an arrest, the Fifth Amendment protects a defendant from being forced to answer incriminating questions asked by law enforcement officers. A defendant can also stop the questioning altogether by making a clear, unambiguous request for an attorney. The clarity of the statement is very important. Several recent cases have found that a defendant’s request was too ambiguous to stop questioning and prevent incriminating statements from being introduced into evidence. The Washington Post reports on a case out of Louisiana in which the suspect requested a “lawyer dog." The Louisiana Supreme Court held that this was not an unambiguous request for counsel, because it was not clearly a request for “a lawyer, dawg” as opposed to a request for a non-existent canine attorney. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court held in its 2011 Berghuis v. Thompkins opinion that simply staying silent for three hours did not invoke a defendant’s right to silence. Instead, the defendant had to break his silence, and make an unambiguous statement invoking his right to counsel, in order to stop law enforcement agents from questioning him.
These cases demonstrate the importance of clearly invoking the right to counsel. Defendants should clearly and unambiguously inform police officers that they will not answer any questions without an attorney present. This can prevent defendants from unintentionally providing investigators with evidence that will later be used to prosecute them. Important constitutional rights are at stake throughout other phases of the criminal case process, as well. By seeking the advice of a Scranton criminal defense attorney, defendants can better protect their constitutional rights throughout the criminal case process.