Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney if I am Innocent?
Short answer is yes.
If you think you’ve been falsely accused, or arrested, for a crime you didn’t commit, you are not alone. There are countless examples of people who have been arrested, and even charged, for things they haven’t done. Witnesses who are incorrect, victims who are lying or misleading, facts that don’t add up, etc.
One may think that the right course of action is to cooperate with law enforcement and that there is no need to hire a lawyer. Great, save some money! Well, probably not the best idea. Remember, the prosecutor cannot use your right to remain silent or your hiring of a lawyer against you.
In fact, if you are a suspect in a case, simply denying your involvement is not going to help much. Cops have heard that thousands of times. Law enforcement do not determine your fate in court, they do not file or dismiss criminal charges, they do not offer plea deals. Their job is to investigate and make an arrest, with the emphasis on the make an arrest part. It is easier for them to put together what they believe to be facts support your guilt, make an arrest, and pass it along to the prosecutor’s office. They “tend” to believe you are guilty, then look for facts to support that belief.
Let me give you a story about a former client that might help illustrate the purpose of this blog post. I represented a woman a few years ago who was charged with felony hit-and-run and felony assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury for, allegedly, causing an accident with a speeding motorcyclist (estimated at 60mph) who broke his leg and then she left the scene. This happened in the San Fernando Valley near a large big box shopping store and alongside a major busy street. She came to me, while being represented by another attorney, after she had already had her preliminary hearing (evidentiary hearing determining probable cause in the case) and after a judge had determined there was enough probable cause that this crime was committed by her.
The police and prosecution’s take was that she had caused this accident and then was found parked alongside the business driveway of this big box store doing paperwork in her car. There was a witness who believed her saw her car, believed to have followed her through the parking lot (even though he lost sight of her), and then came across her car parked where she was. The police were wearing body cameras when they approached my client and you could see a few key things in that footage. A complete lack of any damage to her vehicle, her being cool, calm and collected, a car that was filled with lots of boxes of paperwork (which wasn’t strewed about after an accident) and windows that were not tinted. Oh, there was also some security camera footage from a taco truck that was across the street.
The prosecutor’s office believed that the eyewitness had, in fact, seen what he claimed to have seen, believed that the not-so-great security camera footage was my client’s car and, despite body camera footage and police report documentation that showed no major body damage, still believed my client was good for the crime.
Also keep in mind that my client was adamant about her innocence, often pointing out discrepancies in the reports, and looking for an attorney who could help her prove her innocence. She had also just spent months with a different lawyer going back and forth to court with them believing she did it and, ultimately, having a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor was able to convince the judge that she did as well. Not to mention, her defense attorney, who had access to the same evidence I did, couldn’t prove her innocence.
When I got on the case, I knew that my client was telling the truth. The security camera footage showed the car driving down then main street after the accident away from the business driveway where she was found, there was no damage anywhere on my client’s vehicle from an accident like this, the security camera footage seemed to show 2 persons in the vehicle that caused the accident and a 911 caller mentioned that they believed the car to be a Honda Civic, which was not what my client was driving.
So, what do you do now? The most stressful client a lawyer can have is an innocent one. There is a reason this is a commonly known phrase. You can see in this example how an innocent person could make it halfway down the road towards either a conviction or a forced plea deal to avoid the potential damage a conviction at trial could cause. How an innocent person could go to court multiple times without having their innocence proven. It’s a scary thing.
What I had to do was to clearly, and overwhelmingly, show the prosecutor the evidence that they may have overlooked which, when added up, equaled innocence. I had to put together a package that included timelines, clips of video, mentions to 911 call, lack of car damage, her statements to police. Had an investigator drive through the parking lot with me on video to show how it was almost impossible for this witness to maintain view of this car through the parking lot. Even after all of that, the prosecutor needed to take that all and present it to the supervisor to get permission to dismiss. This was a months-long, multiple appearance effort on my part, not something that just got remedied in one court appearance and a quick conversation.
Eventually, all charges were dismissed against my client.
As you can see, even if you are innocent, it is crucial to have a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney represent you. Even in this example, police saw who they thought was “good for” the crime and put together the facts they could find to support it. No matter that my client proclaimed her innocence from the time she was contacted by police up until this very day.
If you or someone you know has been charged with, or is being investigated for, a crime here in Los Angeles or surrounding counties, contact attorney Ross Erlich today for a free consultation.