One of the most common questions I get asked when someone has been arrested is if they really need to hire a lawyer. The reasons people ask this vary. Maybe they were arrested for a DUI and they were drinking and driving, so what’s the point in fighting it? Maybe they already talked to the prosecutor, and they aren’t seeking jail time, so what’s the harm in pleading guilty? Maybe it is as simple as what a lot of us were taught when we were kids – if you make a mistake, you should always admit it and you won’t be in as much trouble.
Whatever the reason, my advice is always the same. Yes, you should get a lawyer. I cannot think of a single time someone has called and asked this question and my answer was any different. If you have been arrested, if you think you are about to be, or even if the police “just want to talk” about something, your first call should be to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Let’s start with the most common situation I hear – I did what they say, so why fight it? There are a couple of reasons you should still get an attorney. First, law enforcement may have made a mistake in charging you – the facts of your case may not actually align with what you were charged with. Maybe law enforcement made a mistake in how they conducted their investigation and the evidence they collected can’t be used because it was obtained in violation of your rights or the law. For example, did they have a valid, legal reason to pull you over before they gave you that DUI, or did they have a sufficient legal basis to search you home? You will likely never know the answer to that unless you get a lawyer who reviews the evidence (believe it or not, law enforcement isn’t going to willingly admit that they made mistakes in your case). These issues aren’t always glaring and obvious, and sometimes something happens that is so small you may not have realized it was wrong can change your entire case. Those small mistakes can mean the difference between a conviction and a case being dismissed altogether.
The second reason ties in with the next reason people don’t think they need a lawyer – if I’m not going to get sent to jail over this why fight it? The reason is that you may not be aware of all of the consequences of pleading guilty before you do it. Did you get arrested for a DUI? If you plead guilty, they are likely taking your drivers license away for at least ninety days, and if you have a commercial drivers license you will be losing that for at least one year; and if you get another DUI within the next seven years that first conviction that was “not a big deal” is going to be used to increase the penalties for any that you get later (I know you don’t plan on getting a second DUI, but did you really expect to get this one?). What if you’re charged with a misdemeanor domestic violence? If you hunt, have guns for any reason, or may want to buy one in the future, you may be giving up your firearms rights by pleading guilty to it. If you find yourself, later, in a custody dispute that domestic violence conviction can pop up again – North Dakota law states that credible evidence of a history of committing domestic violence (and there isn’t much clearer evidence than a criminal conviction for it) creates a presumption that it is in the children’s best interest that the other parent be awarded custody of them. What if it is a minor theft case? If you find yourself looking for a job in the future that involves handling money you are likely going to have a hurdle to overcome when they find that conviction. There are a lot of hidden consequences that can result in you facing the consequences for those “minor convictions” for years into the future.
Now, what about the idea that we should take responsibility for our actions. In a lot of situations,
that is true. However, I do criminal defense work for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons
is that I don’t think one small mistake should derail a person’s future. With those hidden
consequences, those seemingly minor incidents can do exactly that. There is a difference in taking
responsibility for your actions and needlessly derailing your future. Another reason is that law
enforcement should be responsible for their mistakes, too. If law enforcement makes mistakes in
their investigation, if they violated your rights or didn’t follow the law, is it fair for you to suffer
the consequences for that? I think the answer is no. Law enforcement should be held accountable
for their actions just like anyone else, and if they violated your rights, you shouldn’t be facing the
full weight of the law after their mistake.
So, getting back to our original question – do you really need a lawyer? The answer is yes.
Whether you hire Curran Law Firm, another private attorney, or get appointed a public defender,
you should always, without question, make sure an experienced attorney reviews your case. You
may be able to get the charges reduced to a lower-level offense, changed to a less serious crime,
or even dismissed altogether. You have a right to an attorney, and if you’ve been arrested, or even
if you fear you will be soon, you should exercise that right.