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The Do's and Don'ts After Being Accused of a Crime

Three New York defense lawyers weigh in

What should a person do if they find themselves on the verge of the criminal justice system?

First, don’t speak to law enforcement, defense attorneys say. 

“The worst thing—the absolute worst thing—that a client who is under investigation or arrested and charged can do is try and talk to the police,” says criminal defense attorney Chuck Ross of Charles A. Ross & Associates, who primarily handles white-collar criminal cases.

“Take advantage of the right to remain silent and do not consent to any search of anything,” adds Todd Spodek, managing partner at Spodek Law Group, who has handled a range of criminal charges from insurance fraud to minor drug crimes to high-profile white-collar cases. 

Regardless of the type of criminal law case, the same advice generally applies for a potential criminal defendant. Leave evidence untouched—regardless of whether you think it may be favorable or not.

“A lot of times, especially in white-collar cases,” Spodek says, “people will delete emails and phones and SIM cards that wind up appearing as consciousness of guilt evidence. If they had just left it alone, it could have been dealt with by [his or her] attorney.”

Refrain from contacting any witnesses. “You don’t know who they’re cooperating with,” Spodek says. “Words can be misconstrued. Intent can be misconstrued. Make sure you’re not worsening the situation.” 

Not to mention that witnesses may already be cooperating with authorities. “Because they’re scared, they cooperate,” adds Ross, “and then they receive leniency because of the cooperation.”

Ross also advises clients to stop using all social media, but to refrain from closing their accounts: “The act of actually shutting down and trying to delete a social media account could be viewed as an act of obstructing justice.”

Prepare for the Criminal Justice System

Finally, it’s never too early to plan ahead. “Have a plan in place for your finances, your family, making sure your affairs are in order,” says Spodek. “Let’s say it’s a fraud case. Once the police are involved and there’s going to be an arrest, you’re not going to have the opportunity to settle how you’re going to pay your family’s bills—tuition, mortgage, things like that—because your accounts may be frozen. You should have a plan in place in the event you don’t have access to those finances.”  

Looking after one’s affairs includes taking care of one’s well-being, says Dan Arshack of Arshack, Hajek & Lehrman. “There are few more stressful things for a person to endure than to find themselves in the criminal justice system. [They] can foresee their entire world crumbling.” Arshack stresses that self-care is critical and sometimes refers clients to therapists: “People need to eat correctly, take care of their bodies, maintain focus.”

Ross adds: “Wrongful convictions are a big concern these days. They’ll become an even greater concern with the policies of the new administration and Department of Justice. [Securing justice will] depend on the professionalism and thoroughness of local state prosecuting authorities.”

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of criminal defenseassault & batterydrug and alcohol violationssex offensestraffic violations, and federal crimes.

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