Most people are arrested and charged with crimes contemporaneously. However, there are many instances when someone is under investigation for a crime and the police want the subject of their investigation to speak with them or to provide physical evidence to them. The best time to hire an attorney is when you are being investigated for a potential crime but before you have spoken with or provided evidence to the police and the proverbial damage has been done. Most individuals do not know their legal rights and do not know when their right to silence and right to legal counsel has been triggered. It is important to consult with an attorney initially upon being contacted by law enforcement. An attorney can provide legal advice as to whether making a statement or providing physical evidence to the police is a good or bad idea. Under Illinois law, law enforcement has broad authority to question and even trick a potential criminal defendant into providing inculpatory evidence against him or herself. Very often police officers contact a criminal suspect and ask them to come in and tell their side of the story. Thus, people often think that they can simply go to the police station and explain their side of the story only to be unpleasantly surprised when they end up in handcuffs and are brought before a judge.
Police officers are merely investigators, they do not play the role of deciding a person’s guilt or innocence. Prosecutors advance criminal charges in court and a judge or jury decide a person’s guilt or innocence of said criminal charges. When a criminal accusation is made against someone, the police officer’s role is simply to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the accused or to seek an arrest warrant from a judge. In other words, although you may have a good explanation as to why you are not guilty of committing a crime, it is not the police officer’s role in the criminal justice system to decide your guilt or innocence. This is the mistake most people make who cooperate with the police only to end up being charged with a crime. Also, statements to the police that a lay person might not think are harmful, may be very harmful in court. In addition, language barriers between suspects and police often result in individuals saying things to the police that are very damaging to themselves.