This is Attorney Joseph Paletta. As a trial lawyer concentrating my law practice in the area of criminal defense, I have many opportunities to witness how the delay in retaining a lawyer can affect a person’s legal rights and options. In fact, if you have looked at my website at www.palettalaw.com, you have seen that on almost every page, I strongly suggest to readers to contact me immediately to consult about their legal problem. I provide that advice for the following reasons.
If Police are conducting a criminal investigation and want to speak to you, the general rule is to tell police that you would like to consult with a lawyer first before making a statement. The reason that you want to consult with a lawyer first is that anything you say can and will be used against you as evidence in a criminal prosecution. You have a right against self-incrimination guaranteed by both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions, and as a non-lawyer, people often do not realize that statements made to police will frequently be to their disadvantage.
Furthermore, police will frequently pressure and entice people to make statements before speaking with a lawyer. A common example is when police say that if you do not speak with a lawyer but instead cooperate in the investigation, they (police) will recommend a low bond following arrest, or they will recommend Probation. That may very well be true, so you will likely receive a short-term benefit. However, not consulting a lawyer first and making a statement will likely be to your long-term disadvantage, reducing your options at trial and eliminating defenses that you may not even know you have. Do not sacrifice your long-term benefit and criminal record for a short-term benefit.
However, please be advised that this general rule has exceptions. The first and most common example of this exception occurs during an arrest for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substances. For a D.U.I. arrest, you do not have a right to speak to a lawyer before submitting to a chemical test of your blood or breath. If you are arrested for D.U.I., police will read you something known as the “O’Connell Warnings” which includes the fact that you have no right to speak to a lawyer before taking a chemical test of your blood or breath, and that if you say anything other than “Yes” to taking the test, that will result in a refusal and a one year suspension of your driver’s license.
More reasons exist to consult with an attorney immediately, and they will be addressed in a future statement. Until then, remember, when you have a medical problem, you consult a doctor. When you have a legal problem, consult a lawyer. The sooner, the better.