Criminal investigations precede almost all criminal charges. An investigation may begin with a traffic stop, followed by an arrest for drugs or Driving While Impaired. Or a company may call law enforcement with allegations of embezzlement or fraud. The federal government has the resources to conduct extended investigations.
Investigations sometimes involve the issuance of search warrants, and can include the use of grand juries who are convened to hear evidence and, if warranted, return bills of indictment that charge crimes.
Invoking the Right to Remain Silent
Word of an ongoing investigation may leak out either from the police, in the media, or through friends and family who have been approached by police officers. Sometimes officers will attempt to interview the subject of the investigation in an effort to obtain a statement or confession.
The Constitution provides that no individual be required to answer a police officer's questions. Invoking that right is the most important step a person can take to improve his chances for a successful outcome.
Police are not required to inform the person of his rights, unless police have taken the person into custody and wish to interrogate him. Therefore, people facing investigation must understand the right not to speak, and invoke that right.
Innocent people often have the most to lose by talking to police. Whether innocent or responsible for a criminal act, an individual should never speak to a police officer without an attorney present during questioning.
Responding to an Investigation
Responding to an investigation may take various forms. Sometimes it is imperative to gather exculpatory - evidence showing innocence - information early in the process. Statements from possible witnesses about a person's lack of culpability can help dissuade prosecutors from charging, or can be helpful at trial.
Where the act occurred well in the past, an attorney may advise a client to undergo a polygraph examination. While these examinations are not admissible at trial, they can be used in preliminary stages of an investigation to persuade an investigator to drop the investigation.
In cases involving theft or fraud, sometimes the early payment of restitution, without an acknowledgement of guilt, can facilitate a resolution without the publicity associated with a criminal charge.
Sometimes the best course of action is to obtain a lawyer, and simply keep quiet during the investigative stage. Police, like everyone, are busy people. As cases pile up on their desks, the investigator may distracted by other work, or decide that other cases are more serious and deserve greater attention. Many potential prosecutions have been avoided by simply keeping a low profile.