Dealing with law enforcement can be an intimidating experience. You may have witnessed an action or event that caused law enforcement to want to know what you saw. Sometimes, they want to know what you said or did in response to that event. Do you need a lawyer?
There is no substitute for common sense. If you independently witnessed a crime on the street and the police were called to the scene you are probably safe to talk to the police. They will want to take statements from everyone who saw what happened and if you are a bystander it is probably okay to cooperate and give the police a statement without a lawyer present.
On the other hand, if you had some involvement in an action or event, or even if you did not and are concerned about your involvement and the police are there to get “your side of the story,” do not be afraid to ask for a time out to talk to a lawyer. Again, use your common sense. If you think there is even a small chance that you are not an “innocent bystander” do not be afraid to call a lawyer.
Many times people give their “side of the story” because they are in custody already or under pressure from the police about being arrested and “going downtown” if they refuse to talk. Often times, people think they will be able to “talk their way” out of the situation by telling certain parts of the story or by minimizing their conduct and leaving out other parts of the story. The problem with that logic is that people who are trying to talk their way out of a problem may not even know how bad their problem really is or how to handle it. Or, they could talk themselves into another legal problem entirely or make their bad situation even worse. The best thing for people to do whenever they are feeling that type of pressure is to contact a lawyer.
Cost is often a concern. That being said, it costs nothing to contact lawyer to ask for help. Most lawyers will talk to people and help them assess if they need a lawyer at no cost. Even if you have no money to pay a lawyer, if you are being investigated, the public defender’s office will provide assistance prior to a criminal charge being filed. You have a constitutional right to counsel even before a formal criminal charge is filed. Do not forget that.
The lesson here: if you are unsure and under pressure, it does not hurt or cost money to ask for legal help. Contact a lawyer for assistance.
Christopher Strohbehn is a partner at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin and Brown LLP. In addition to criminal defense, he focuses his practice in personal injury, civil and insurance coverage litigation. He is a graduate of the Marquette Law School and he completed his undergraduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For more information, please go to www.grgblaw.com, www.milwaukeecriminallawyerblog.com, and www.wisconsinpersonalinjuryattorneysblog.com . You may also go to www.findmilwaukeelawyers.org to receive an automatic referral from the Milwaukee Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service.