I haven’t charged with a crime, but I think I’m under investigation in California. Do I need a lawyer?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Example – You get a call from a detective asking you to come to the police station in Los Angeles to answer a few questions. You arrive and he offers you some coffee and is extremely nice to you. He explains that you are there voluntarily and can leave at any time. He assures you that you are not under arrest. He then asks a few basic questions. He asks you to take a polygraph test. Before you know it, he is asking you more specific questions. After 30 minutes, he asks you to stand up and he places you in handcuffs.

Example – Your boss calls you to his office to discuss a discrepancy in your billing paperwork. He realizes there are several checks written to you on the business account. You do not answer any questions, and he explains that he will get back to you as he is going to further investigate the matter.

Example – The police get called to your house in Los Angeles to investigate an ongoing neighborhood dispute. They ask you some questions and explain to you that the matter is under investigation and they will get back to you.

You should always have a lawyer present in each of these situations.

When a crime occurs, the police investigate the matter and prepare an investigation report. The report is then forwarded to the prosecuting agency (district attorney or city attorney). The prosecutor is the one who decides whether to file criminal charges and what criminal charges will be filed. The investigation process could take time, or could occur very quickly. Don’t provide law enforcement with information that will later come back to help prosecute you. Law enforcement is trained to trick and elicit information from unsuspected people being investigated. It is human nature to want to explain your position. However, it is this very explanation that will be
used to convict you later down the line.

Therefore, it is essential to be able to fight your case before charges are filed. This is referred to as a ‘pre-file case.’ This means that you may be under investigation for a crime, but no charges have been filed against you. The police or other law enforcement agency may have already contacted you, your work, your family, or other individuals, and are asking questions. A
search warrant may have already been served. Typically, you are under no obligation to talk to anyone or to do anything. (You should always first consult with a lawyer before doing or not doing anything).

When you feel you may be investigated, or you know you are the subject of an investigation, in California, DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE ARRESTED OR CHARGES ARE FILED. Fight your case before it
becomes a case. Contact an attorney immediately.

When a case is a pre-file, the right attorney will need to research, investigate and advise you regarding the investigation. They can contact law enforcement early and intervene, assist in avoiding interviews, polygraphs, line-ups, fingerprint/handwriting analysis, or other investigative tools seeking evidence against you. They can also put legal pressure on law enforcement to avoid further investigations and often times divert allegations and informally
resolve the case by alternative means. They key is to attempt to keep criminal charges from being filed. Finally, if criminal prosecution is inevitable, a pre-file investigation by an attorney can assist the client with a voluntary surrender to avoid a public arrest and to assist the client with arranging for bail so that they do not remain in custody.

If you are being investigated, or feel you may be investigated, contact an attorney early to minimize your exposure and to assist you in the criminal justice system.

Content courtesy of The Karpel Law Group.

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