Texas Criminal Investigations
It is ideal to consult with a criminal defense attorney as early as possible in a criminal investigation. An experienced criminal defense attorney can not only protect your legal rights but can also immediately begin making strategic decisions to ensure that you get the best result possible. In many instances an aggressive criminal defense attorney can even sometimes prevent charges from ever being filed. If you or a loved one have any contact with law enforcement in which there is any possibility of criminal liability, please contact us so that we immediately begin protecting you. The Law Offices of Roderick C. White will be there to aggressively protect from beginning to end. A better understanding of typical criminal investigations can be gained by reviewing the information below:
Investigations in General
After a crime is allegedly committed, the preliminary investigation by a law enforcement agency generally begins when responding officers arrive at the scene of the incident. Emergency matters are handled and the crime scene is secured. In most cases an officer will meet with the victim in person to obtain important information concerning the crime. Witnesses are then questioned. Any suspect at the scene is detained, questioned, and then released or arrested, depending on the circumstances. Additional responsibilities during the preliminary investigation may include: photographing, videotaping, measuring and sketching the scene; searching for evidence; identifying, collecting, examining, and processing physical evidence; and recording all observations and statements in notes.
Despite a thorough preliminary investigation, many cases require a follow-up investigation to close the case or to arrest an alleged offender. The follow-up investigation can be conducted by the officers, who responded to the original call or, most often, by detectives. Investigative leads that may need to be followed-up include: checking the victim’s background; determining who would benefit from the crime and who had knowledge to plan the crime; tracing weapons and stolen property; and searching modus operandi (manner of operation), mug shot, and fingerprint files.
After the law enforcement agency has completed its investigation, the case may be filed with the prosecuting attorney for review and, if appropriate, criminal prosecution. The prosecuting attorney considers such matters as the legality of the arrest, whether certain evidence essential to the case was legally obtained, and/or whether additional investigation is required. Depending on the facts and law involved, the prosecuting attorney may: accept the case for prosecution as filed; increase/reduce the charge filed; file additional/different charges; return the case for further investigation; or reject the case for prosecution.
Initial Contact with Law Enforcement
Whether the criminal investigations begins with a traffic stop or a report of criminal activity it is important to note that a person may be stopped or detained for brief questioning by the police, if there is a reasonable suspicion that something criminally afoul is suspected by a law enforcement officer. A stop is not the same as an arrest because, although you may be briefly detained, you are not moved to a different location. During the brief stop the police officer may ask appropriate questions to confirm or dispel his suspicion. It is however important to note that you have the right to refuse to answer any questions beyond those appropriate for preliminary identification.
Generally, a law enforcement officer may search a person or place if he has probable cause to believe the person or place to be searched is involved with criminal activity. Probable cause to search means that 1) it is more likely than not that the specific items to be searched for are connected with criminal activity and 2) that the items will be found on the person of or in the place of the proposed search. The general rule is that warrants are required for searches. A search warrant is issued by a judge only upon a finding of probable cause. There are however a few exceptions to the general requirement of a search warrant. Searches without warrants are permissible in the following circumstances:
- Searches incident to arrest: Police officers are permitted to search your body and/or clothing for weapons or other contraband when making a valid arrest.
- Automobile searches: If you’re arrested in a vehicle, the police may search the inside of the vehicle. To perform a complete search of the vehicle (such as in locked glove compartments, for example), probable cause is necessary.
- Exigent circumstances: Searches may be conducted if there are “exigent circumstances” which demand immediate action, such as to avoid the destruction of evidence.
- Plain view: Police do not need a search warrant when they see an object that is in plain view of an officer who has the right to be in the position to have that view.
- Consent: If you consent to a search of your body, your vehicle, or your home, police are not required to have a warrant. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO CONSENT TO ANY POLICE SEARCHES!!!
Probable cause is required for any arrest. Probable cause to arrest means that there must be a reasonable belief that a crime was committed and the person arrested committed the crime. An arrest warrant is occasionally obtained prior to arrest but an arrest warrant is generally not required.
After a person is placed under arrest, they are protected by some very important constitutional rights. Two important constitutional rights to be aware of upon arrest are 1) the right to remain silent and 2) the right to have an attorney. After arrest, a person is not required to say anything else to police or investigators, until they have an attorney present. Furthermore, the person must be given the opportunity to contact an attorney.
Under the Miranda Rule, if a person is taken into law enforcement custody they must be informed of specific constitutional rights before they are subjected to any interrogation or questioning. Those rights are:
- The right to remain silent
- The right to have an attorney present during questioning
- The right to have an attorney appointed if you are unable to afford one
Miranda warnings do not have to be read until a person is taken into custody. That means that a person can be questioned by the police before being taken into custody and anything said at that point can be later used in court.
After arrest the police will bring the arrestee to the police station to complete the booking process. This process includes fingerprinting and a series of preliminary questions, such as name and date of birth. This general preliminary questioning is generally exempted from the offense-related questioning contemplated by the Miranda warnings. The arrestee will also be searched and photographed and their personal property such as jewelry will be catalogued and stored.