If your name comes up in connection with a crime, you may be questioned by police. This is an intimidating prospect. Having a detective or federal agent arrive on your doorstep or repeatedly call you can be frightening. You may not be sure of what to do. Any time the police or a federal agent wants to talk to you, whether they claim you are a suspect or not, we recommend you call an experienced criminal defense lawyer to ensure your rights are protected.
Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys is available to help you throughout the North Carolina or federal criminal justice process, including pre-charge investigations. Despite what the police may tell you, it does not make you look guilty to hire a lawyer before speaking to the police – it makes you look smart.
Signs of Being Under Investigation
To decide whether or not you should call an attorney, consider the items below as signs the police are likely investigating you as a criminal suspect:
- The police call you or come to your home. This is not a conclusive sign, but it is always a necessary first step for a detective pursuing a criminal investigation. If you are asked to come into the station to make a statement, this is a red flag.
- The police contact your relatives, friends, romantic partners, or co-workers. If the police contact one or more people you are connected to, this is a significant sign that they are trying to gather information about you as a suspect for a crime.
- You notice police vehicles or unmarked cars near your home or business. The police can survey you at home or your work. You may notice more police vehicles in your neighborhood, unmarked cars parked in your neighborhood or by your office, or that someone is following you.
- You receive friend or connection requests on social media. You may receive a friend or connection request from someone you do not know on social media. Or, you may notice new people following you on your public accounts. This could be a police officer.
An Overview of the Pre-Charge Investigation Process
Most people imagine that the police arrest someone who is in the process of committing a crime. However, offenders often get away before the police arrive. In many cases, hours go by before someone notices a crime has occurred, such as someone coming home to discover a burglary. Once a crime has occurred and law enforcement is notified, then the police will conduct an investigation, identify a suspect, and present the matter to the district attorney.
Investigations of significant felonies or those that cross state lines may be handled by a federal agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Crime Scene Processing
The police or federal agency will collect as much evidence from the crime scene as possible, including:
- Video surveillance
- List of missing or damaged items
- Tools and tool marks
- Samples of unknown substances
- Samples of biological substances
- Samples of trace evidence, such as soil and fibers
- Samples of drugs
- Victim testimony
- Eyewitness testimony
Smaller law enforcement teams will have detectives and other officers process a crime scene. Larger police forces typically have personnel with specialized training who are dedicated to evidence collection.
Whether or not a detective processes the crime scene, a detective will be involved right away. It is this officer’s job to analyze the evidence, pursue leads, and identify persons of interest. Often, the police interview many individuals in connection with a serious crime. If an agent or detective wants to talk with you, this is not necessarily a sign that you are a suspect. However, if a detective calls you or comes to your home, do not speak with them or answer questions before talking to a lawyer.
There are many reasons the police may come to your home. They may want information about someone who is a suspect. They may want information about the area where the crime took place. They may want to question you because you may be a suspect. The reason for being questioned by police does not change the fact that you should call a lawyer before saying anything.
It is almost never beneficial to answer an agent or officer’s questions without having your attorney present. At any point during an investigation, you could become a criminal suspect. By having a lawyer with you any time you speak to the police, you have someone there to protect your rights and look after your interests.
Obtaining Forensic Evidence
While the police are reviewing the evidence available to them and initially questioning persons of interest, forensic scientists are testing other evidence. These professionals may test biological substances for identifiable DNA. They may test fingerprints and run them through state and federal databases to identify suspects. They may test soil, fibers, and other trace evidence to determine if it can provide any additional information.
Once detectives receive forensic test results, this may help them narrow down their pool of suspects, particularly if a specific person’s DNA or fingerprints were found at the scene.
Police Interrogations of Suspects
Police will want to interrogate suspects in a controlled environment. If you are a suspect, they will want you to come to the station and sit in a small, unappealing room where they can intimidate you, question you, and even lie to you. The point of this interrogation is obtaining a confession, and detectives are often trained and skilled in questioning individuals. This training may cause them to play nice. They may tell you they just want to hear your side of the story, so they can “clear up any misunderstanding”. They may claim they are trying to help you, your family members, or friends.
The police may try other tactics to get you to confess to a crime. They are allowed to lie to you during an investigation. They can claim they have evidence or testimony they do not really have. A detective is allowed to trick you to get you to say something you otherwise would not or mean.
These interrogations are serious and emotionally challenging. You should never agree to be questioned by police without a lawyer present.
Arrest or Criminal Summons
If the police believe they have enough evidence that you committed a crime, they may go before a magistrate or judge and ask for a warrant for your arrest. If you are accused of a felony, the police or agency may hand over the case to a local or federal prosecutor.
However, in North Carolina, instead of being arrested for a state-level offense, you may receive a criminal summons that requires you to appear in court. The police may go before a magistrate and present evidence that you committed an infraction or a crime. The magistrate can then sign a criminal summons, which requires you to appear in court and answer questions about the charges.
If you receive a criminal summons, call a lawyer immediately. If you ignore the summons and do not go to court, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Your Rights During an Investigation
It is essential that you understand your rights during the North Carolina or federal criminal process.
You do not have to answer a police officer’s questions.
If a police officer or federal agent calls, you can politely decline to answer any questions over the phone.
If that officer or agent asks you to come into the station, politely inform them that you will speak with an attorney first. You can take down the officer or agent’s name, phone number, and email. Your attorney can then advise you on whether you should make an official statement or not.
If an officer or federal agent comes to your home, you can handle the situation in much the same way. Do not let them into your home unless they have a warrant signed by a judge or magistrate and all the information on that warrant is correct. Politely inform them that you will not answer any questions related to a criminal matter without your attorney present. Ask for the officer or agent’s card.
You have the right to remain silent.
If you are arrested and taken into custody, you have the right to remain silent. You can and should invoke that right by calmly saying, “I am invoking my right to remain silent. I want an attorney.” You cannot invoke your right to remain silent by simply remaining silent. You must inform the officer or agent of this choice.
After stating this, you should not respond to any questions. Wait until you are given the opportunity to contact someone. Call a criminal defense lawyer directly, or call a trusted family member or friend, who will contact a lawyer on your behalf.
You should not answer anything when being questioned by the police. Anything you say or do before or after an arrest can be used against you. It is always safer to remain silent and not answer any questions until you have talked with a lawyer.
You always have the right to an attorney.
Whether or not you are under investigation, you have the right to an attorney. You may worry that hiring a lawyer during a criminal investigation will make you look guilty. This is not true. It will make you look like you are aware of your rights and will take the necessary steps to uphold them. It will look like you are not going to let the police try to intimidate or manipulate you.
You have the right to an attorney at all times, including any time a detective, officer, or agent wants to question you. You can and should hire a lawyer before participating in a police investigation.
Call us if You Are Being Investigated by Police For These Crimes:
Pre-Charge Investigation FAQ
- How long can the police detain me without charging me? If the police detain you without placing you under arrest, how long they can do so depends on several factors. It could be minutes or hours. If you are arrested, a prosecutor must file charges within 48 hours, or you should be released.
- How long does a police investigation take? Criminal investigations can take days, weeks, months, or even years depending on the complexity of the matter.
- If the police let me go, can they charge me later? Yes, you can be questioned by the police but not charged with a crime. A prosecutor can seek charges at a later date.
- The police want me to go to the station, should I? You should not voluntarily go to a police station for questioning without first talking with a lawyer.
- How long do the police have to file charges? Typically, prosecutors in North Carolina have two years to file charges for misdemeanors. There is no statute of limitations for felony crimes.
- How can I found out if charges have been filed? If charges are filed against you, then you may receive a criminal summons or get contacted by the police with a warrant for your arrest.