Question: Why should I talk to an attorney before I have been charged with a crime in Wisconsin?

Answer: One of the biggest mistakes people make when they get in trouble or get accused of something is that they wait way too long to get help from an attorney. People always think that they can handle things themselves or that getting an attorney is going to make them look guilty or look like they did something wrong.

The fact is that if the police or the department of justice or the FBI or whoever is sniffing around or asking you questions or trying to sit down and meet with you, they already think you’re guilty; that’s why they want to talk to you. So the last thing they want you to do is get an attorney, which is why they do everything they can to encourage you not to do that; they want you to think you don’t need an attorney because you’re not actually in any trouble, you’re not actually a suspect, you’re not actually charged with anything.

They just want to ask you some questions and have a friendly talk. But the fact is when they’ve done that and they’ve gotten all of the information they can get out of you, then they pull out the handcuffs and arrest you. So even if you’re innocent, even if you think, “There’s no way I’m going to sit down and confess to something,” do not talk to the police without an attorney. What you might think are perfectly innocent comments can be against you in very surprising ways.

By going an attorney first, you can protect yourself and prevent the police from gathering information against you. The other big thing that an attorney can do for you at an early stage is to prevent charges from ever being filed. If you’re the suspect in a crime and you simply tell the police you don’t want to talk to them, that’s a very good start. But what may have happened then is that the police may take their information to a prosecutor, who then proceeds to file charges against you. A good attorney would start by making sure that you’re not taken advantage of and not talking to the police, but then they would also proactively reach out to the prosecutor with the goal of preventing charges from ever being issued.

If you wait until the charges are filed to hire an attorney, you might still be able to beat the case in court but much of the damage will already be done. A public arrest, public proceedings in a courtroom, news coverage, all of these things can happen—whether you’re innocent or not—when charges are issued. And beating a case months later doesn’t repair the damage to your reputation. So the only way to avoid these consequences of a criminal prosecution is to work with a lawyer who will be aggressive and get out in front of things and prevent the charges from ever being filed.

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