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Prince William County Criminal Investigations

Mistakes happen. Few know this as well as experienced defense attorneys. When an alleged offender commits a crime, officers responding to an incident would start the investigative process. Prince William County criminal investigations have a singular purpose: gather enough evidence to place you in custody and work toward a conviction. While you may feel confident enough to fight the court system on your own, you should reconsider. There is no harm in retaining the employ of an attorney. In fact, attorneys could work to ensure that your rights are protected, that you do not incriminate yourself, and could even help mitigate sentencing if your case comes to that.

A Person’s Rights When Police Knock

A police officer has the same rights as any member of the public to knock on a person’s door to ask them questions. However, when a police officer comes to someone’s door, that person has the same right as far as answering an officer’s questions as they would have with anyone who comes to the door. A person may decline to answer the police officer’s questions or to even speak to them, exactly the same as they could decline to speak with any solicitor that comes to their door or a neighbor coming to the door to ask questions. There generally is no reason to answer the questions of a police officer when they knock, certainly not just because they are police officers.

Equally, a person has no obligation to invite the police into their home. The only exception to that would be if a police officer had a warrant to enter their house. It is perfectly reasonable to inform an officer that they cannot enter their house, and the best way to do that is to verbally inform the officer that they do not have permission to enter the house and would prefer they stay outside.

Reasons to Deny Police Entry

It is almost always advisable not to grant police permission to enter a home, even if a resident has nothing to hide. When the police are granted permission to enter someone’s home, that makes it much more difficult to revoke the permission and makes it much more difficult to get officers to leave their home than if they had not allowed them to enter in the first place. It is much easier to deny the entrance to their home in the first place than to have them enter and wait until they are uncomfortable with the police seeing things in the house and ask them to leave.

It is also important to keep in mind the primary purpose of the police is to investigate a crime or to try to gather evidence of a crime in order to convict someone. Officers are almost always looking for evidence of a crime. They almost always assume that people are hiding something even when they are not. Therefore, when a police officer comes to someone’s house, it is a safe assumption that they are looking for something and intend on gathering evidence against them, whatever the case may be. It is typically best to not allow the police to enter their home, even if they do not have anything to hide.

Stopping on the Street

The police have the same right to stop a person on the street as any other citizen does to ask them a question, and the person has the same right to either answer their questions or not to answer their question. People often feel like they have to answer a police officer’s questions, but that is just not the case. In most situations, when the police stop someone on the street that person is not under any obligation to continue speaking with them or give them any information, other than their identifying information.

There is no reason to withhold identifying information from police and there are a wide variety of situations in which officers are authorized to obtain identifying information. So, in a broad array of circumstances, pedestrians might have an obligation to give officers your identifying information: name and date of birth. It is hard to imagine how that would be prejudicial to someone or how that person would harm themselves by giving up their names or dates of birth. It is usually advisable for a person to offer that information voluntarily, but aside from that information, there is no legal obligation to answer any other questions that a police officer may have when they stop them on the street. It is often best for people to use their right to remain silent in that situation.

How People May Avoid Answering Questions

The most important thing to try to keep in mind in a situation is:

  • Not to prolong the conversation
  • Not to prolong the confrontation in any way
  • Not to escalate the confrontation in any way.

The biggest mistake people make is by asking questions. Instead of answering a question or refusing to answer a question, they ask questions. If they are stopped by a police officer, they should answer briefly and politely that they do not wish to answer any questions other than their identifying information and politely continue along their way. People get into problematic situations when:

  • They try to avoid talking to police on the streets
  • When they demand an explanation from officers why they are being targeted
  • When they ask why they are being questioned
  • When they demand some other explanation of the officer
  • This behavior often prolongs the situation and escalates the confrontation

If someone asked questions of an officer in that situation, that gives officers an excuse to continue the conversation which commonly leads to a situation where both become antagonistic.

The officer may ultimately develop a reason for an arrest when there was no reason to begin with. The best thing that a person could do when they do not want to have a conversation or contact with the police is to politely give them your name and date of birth, and say that you do not plan to answer any further questions without an attorney present.

Know the Difference: Custody, Being Detained, or Simple Questioning

It is often confusing to a person whether they are in custody, being detained, or just being asked questions by the police. There are legal definitions, a broad range from:

  • Being free to leave the situation/having a consensual encounter with a police officer where you are free to walk away
  • Being detained and not being free to walk away
  • Being in custody or under arrest

When someone is confused about whether they are being detained by the police or whether they are actually in custody, they should ask the officer immediately if they are free to leave.
If an officer tells them that they are free to leave, then they should take advantage of that. They should immediately leave the situation and let it deescalate. It is almost never advisable for anyone who is told they are free to leave the situation, to remain at the scene. That is just never going to be good advice. If an officer advises a person that they are being detained, it is almost always best as they immediately begin using their right to remain silent and not say anything further to the officer except they want to have a lawyer present.

There are important legal distinctions between being in custody and not being in custody. Someone who is being detained by the police may be in custody for legal purposes, or may not, depending on several other circumstances. For someone who is having contact with the police, the safest thing to do is ask if they are free to go and proceed to leave that area if they are actually free to go. When someone is being detained, they should ask why they are being detained, being careful not to argue with police or even repeat the question when the police refuse to answer it. Let your attorney address the situation at a later date.

The best advice is to forego asking any further questions to let the situation resolve itself and reserve their right to remain silent. In a situation where a person is in custody, they should ask for an attorney. If a person is being detained, they should ask for an attorney. If that person is told that they are free to leave, they should leave that situation. If they do not, that could only warrant further Prince William County criminal investigation.

Investigations After an Arrest in Prince William County

In many cases, an arrest does not conclude the investigation in Prince William County. The Prince William County Police Department, and the other police departments in Prince William County, typically assign a lead officer to each case. That officer is responsible for:

  • The case files
  • Any information coming into the case
  • Keeping contact with the witnesses
  • Handling any other information
  • People calling in with information
  • All the follow-up investigation that needs to be conducted
  • Interviews
  • Reviewing videotape as they become available.

Because there is a lead law enforcement officer assigned to each case, someone who is charged with an offense should consider that at all stages of their case, there is someone continuing to investigate. That officer is attempting to continue to develop evidence to use against them in a trial and that the officer’s job is not complete until the trial is done.

It is extremely important for anyone charged with a crime to never speak on the phones in the jail about their criminal offense. The assigned investigative officer in Prince William County listens to every single one of the jail calls, especially in felony cases that are set for trial. It is not at all uncommon for defense attorneys to be given several hours of phone calls the week before trial. Those discussions may be played back to the jury to argue that the defendant was discussing the facts of the crime on the phone of the jail. Even in cases where people think they are not discussing anything in a way that someone is going to understand or say anything that could be used against them, the prosecutors would attempt to play those and explain to the jury why that should be held against the defendant. It happens all the time.

Ongoing Investigations During Trial or Court in Prince William County

An investigation of a case may continue until someone is in trial if the prosecutor believes witnesses are being intimidated or the defendant is incarcerated using the telephone in the jail. It is common for an investigation to continue in cases where evidence may still be forthcoming, such as in a fraud case or in a case where they are investigating distribution of drugs, or anything else that requires looking through emails or text messages, or any other kind of electronic communication. There are a lot of cases that require passing through a lot of electronic communications or other electronic information that require the investigation to continue for some time while the case is pending.

After a Prince William County arrest, it is not uncommon for interrogation to take place in which police inform someone of their right to have an attorney present and of their right to remain silent. Officers may try to interview that person without an attorney present to have them admit to the offense. They may ask them questions designed to elicit a confession. After an arrest, it is also common for police to review all the jail calls for anyone who is incarcerated and for people who are not incarcerated, the police may review cell phone records that they are able to obtain or possibly even monitor the person’s online behavior. All of these aspects are used to further Prince William County investigations.

Speak with an Attorney in Prince William County Who Could Help

One of the most helpful things an attorney could do is to prevent the police from taking accused individuals into custody for interview purposes. Once officers know that someone has an attorney, the police would simply direct their communications through the attorney and any interrogation that does take place after they hired an attorney, would have to be in the presence of their attorney. They are simply not allowed to interview them in custody outside of the presence of their attorney.

Prince William County criminal investigations are built off of the evidence gathered by officers. Instead of potentially giving the county a chance to incriminate you further, consider working with an experienced attorney. Reach out to start your defense today.


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