Maybe the police knocked on your door, or you heard from a friend that cops have been asking around. Regardless of how you catch onto a criminal investigation, realizing you are suspected of a crime is frightening. Knowing how to protect yourself when your freedom is on the line can be difficult.
When the police question you, anything you say can be used or taken out of context to make it seem like you’re guilty. Many times, just trying to explain yourself will lead to a criminal charge. If Pennsylvania law enforcement is knocking on your door, tell them you do not wish to speak with them unless your attorney is present, and call us at (412) 281-2146 to discuss the next steps.
What Happens During a Pre-Charge Investigation?
A criminal investigation occurs before any formal charges are filed. During pre-charge investigations, police or detectives will question potential suspects. Investigators are simply trying to gather more evidence and statements to establish that a crime occurred and determine who might’ve committed it.
The pre-charge investigation process is critical. If you or someone you know has been in police custody, the prosecutor has 72 hours to decide if any charges will be filed. Your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecution not to proceed with any formal charges at this time.
If police are asking about your whereabouts or actions concerning a crime, you are likely a target of their investigation. Anything you say can be used against you and make you seem guilty. Investigators can’t use physical force or psychological coercion, but simple prodding or heckling can get you to respond to the questions with the answers they want in order to charge you with a crime. It can be easy to incriminate yourself under this kind of pressure.
That’s why it’s essential to stay calm, remain silent, and contact a lawyer immediately if police try to question you in Pennsylvania. An experienced attorney will spot their tactics and help you keep a level head while speaking to police. That way, you can avoid giving a statement that costs you your freedom.
What to Do if You’re Being Investigated in Pennsylvania
A criminal investigation is a stressful situation, and the best way to avoid criminal charges is to mitigate law enforcement’s evidence against you. A defense lawyer can intervene, ensuring you don’t say something that will get you into further trouble. They will also assess the evidence police have so they can begin building your defense.
Here are the critical steps to keep in mind if you are under investigation in Pennsylvania:
Hire a Lawyer Immediately
If you are asked to come into the station for questioning, hire an attorney beforehand. This is not the time to do it alone.
Your attorney may advise you on issuing a statement to the police. However, doing so depends on the case’s unique circumstances and should be done only under an attorney’s direction.
It’s essential to know and exercise your rights if you are being investigated for a crime. Your lawyer will help protect your rights during questioning, preventing you from providing information that a prosecutor can use against you. Here are the most important rights to remember when police are questioning you:
- The right to leave
- The right against search and seizure, or the right to privacy
- The right to remain silent or to avoid self-incrimination
- The right to defense
Ask if You’re Under Arrest
You have the right to leave if you are not under arrest and have not been read your Miranda rights. The police can stop and question you on the street if they have reasonable suspicion, but you cannot be detained without being under arrest.
The problem is that you don’t always know if you’re under arrest because the police will try to make it seem like you can’t leave. The best course of action is to ask if you’re under arrest. If they say no, you should contact a defense attorney to figure out your next steps.
Don’t Allow a Warrantless Search
The right to privacy is granted under the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, but search and seizure precedent is far more complex. The 4th Amendment asserts that you have the right to be secure in your person and property against unreasonable search and seizure. If law enforcement seeks a search warrant based on probable cause, you should comply with the warrant.
However, if law enforcement does not have a search warrant, do not allow them to search your person, property, or residence without a warrant. One thing to know is that a motor vehicle doesn’t technically fall under “property,” so if an officer pulls you over and has probable cause to search your car, they can charge you on the spot for a crime.
If you are being questioned by law enforcement, you have the right to remain silent as granted under the 5th Amendment.
You should absolutely invoke this right and state that you want your attorney present. As mentioned above, you should not speak to the police. They can lie to you, trick you, or goad you into saying something that could incriminate you.
Invoke Your Right to Counsel
You have a right to counsel under the 6th Amendment. Once this is invoked, the police must stop questioning you until you’ve spoken with your attorney. Being clear and firm with the police about invoking your right to counsel can be intimidating, but it is extremely important.
Suppose the police have contacted you to explain your actions related to an alleged offense. In that case, you should hire an experience Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney to protect your rights before you’re charged. When your rights are on the line, you need someone by your side and working on your behalf to make sure you can enjoy those rights for the rest of your life.
The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna, & Ness would be happy to discuss your specific legal situation more. Contact us for a free legal consultation today.
Pennsylvania Criminal Investigation FAQs
The police are not asking me questions anymore. Am I no longer a suspect?
Not necessarily. The police may not be bothering you directly anymore, but they may be filing a complaint with the magistrate (district judge). The complaint identifies you as a defendant and summarizes the charges. The magistrate reviews the complaint and then issues a summons or a warrant, depending on the crime.
What is the difference between a summons and an arrest?
In Pennsylvania, both a summons and a warrant for arrest are issued by a magistrate after they receive and review the complaint. A summons is issued for less severe crimes and commands you to come before the magistrate on a scheduled date and time for your preliminary hearing. A warrant is for more serious crimes and with an arrest, you are likely to be taken into police custody and held in jail until bail is set.
What if I already spoke to police before reading this?
If you happened to speak to law enforcement at your home, workplace, or at the police station before finding this site, don’t give up hope. In these circumstances, we would see if filing a motion to suppress a custodial statement would be applicable. Contact us immediately if you have spoken with the police, and learn more about the criminal process in Pennsylvania so you know what to expect.
Suspected of a Crime in Pennsylvania? Contact a Lawyer Right Away.
The criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna, & Ness, P.C. have worked in Pittsburgh for decades. We understand that a criminal investigation isn’t something to take lightly, and the experience can be overwhelmingly stressful. Having handled many of these pre-arrest investigation cases, we know that hiring the right defense attorney is the most important factor in whether you live your life as you do now or face years in prison, thousands of dollars in fines, and the loss of your freedom.