Common Mistakes to Avoid in Criminal Investigations

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Maryland criminal defense attorney Seth Okin.

What are the most common mistakes that individuals make when investigated or charged?

Seth Okin: The most common mistakes are identity mistakes. If an officer receives a report of an individual that looks [a certain way], they go out and find the first individual that [fits that description], but were they someone who could have been in that general vicinity? We have cell phones. Cell phones have GPS coordinates and they ping off different towers. There are tools like that that they can utilize, but an officer is no different than an attorney; they see a report and a claim and they go out and solve it. An attorney sees a report and a claim and we’re going to try to prove it’s not us, but the officer wants to prove that it is us. We are, unfortunately, victims of our own presumption – we think we know what happened, we think we can get the glory of it. You have to put that aside and you have to look at the science, the law, and all the possibilities.

Depending on what type of case it is, the most common pitfall is jumping to conclusions. You can’t conclude something without the facts. If you’re not looking at the facts, you’re putting someone else in a terrible position because they’re going to have to appear in court for something they didn’t do. They’re going to be charged, and that goes on public record. Even in the end if we win and it’s expunged, you’ve exposed them…, and that client spent a whole lot of money and a whole lot of time defending something when they were innocent.

What advice would you give to a client who is facing criminal charges for the first time?

Seth Okin: I would tell them that they do not want to become a habitual offender. Everyone, unfortunately, will have contact with the judicial system. More often than not we hope it’s simply a speeding ticket, failure to yield the right-of-way, or blowing a stop sign, but sometimes it is a drug case, a DUI case, or a sex offender case. It happens, and when you come in contact with the system, you may very quickly recognize that while the idea that you’re presumed innocent is the way the judicial system works, the system is stacked against you if you go in there with no attorney.

There are officers, State’s Attorneys, judges, commissioners, bail bondsmen…; all they’re doing is keeping you out of jail momentarily, or angling to put you in jail. The only person who’s there to take care of you would be the attorney who does the criminal defense work. They’re the ones who are on your side, and without them, you’re all alone. There’s no one looking out for your best interest other than the criminal defense attorney… You stand alone, and if you don’t make the choice to bring an attorney with you, then you will be alone forever. When you’re standing inside of a jail cell you realize you are in the loneliest place on earth. I could never understand why someone wouldn’t hire an attorney. If I got into trouble, I would hire an attorney for myself, and I am one.