Q. Do I need an attorney even if I am innocent?
A. Yes. The Government, as represented by prosecutors and police officers, is generally in the business of arresting people and obtaining convictions. Despite what they might say, they are generally not in the business of helping you if you are accused of a crime. Some police officers even have special training on "obtaining confessions." They rarely want to hear your side of the story, and if they do, it is because they think it will help them convict you. Sometimes police have even told suspects that a lawyer is unnecessary if someone is innocent, in hopes that the suspect would give them enough information to make a case against the suspect. Always ask to speak to a lawyer before speaking to police.
Q. Can the police just stop me for no reason?
A. No. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its corollary in the Tennessee Constitution forbid unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally speaking, there are three levels of interaction between police and the public: (1) a consensual encounter, (2) a brief investigative stop, or (3) a custodial arrest. A consensual encounter is any interaction in which the suspect consents, like a casual conversation on the street between an officer and a member of the public. For the police to conduct an investigative stop, the police officer must have a suspicion that a crime was or is about to be committed, and that officer's belief must be reasonable. During this investigative stop, if the police also have a reasonable suspicion that the person is armed, the police may "pat-down" the person's clothing to make sure the person is unarmed. Police are not allowed to conduct a full-scale search during this stop. For a full-scale search or arrest, police must either have a warrant or probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed it.
Q. Are the police allowed to search my car after they give me a citation?
A. Generally not. A citation is an alternative to an arrest. Technically, when a person is given a citation, they are not under arrest, so the search that goes along with an arrest is not allowed.
Q. Should I get a Public Defender?
A. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Because most public defenders work in only one court or jurisdiction, they are often uniquely qualified to give advice about the courts in which they practice. Also, people who become public defenders usually do so because they are highly committed to helping people with limited financial means. Indeed, depending on the jurisdiction, jobs at public defender's offices are often highly competitive, attracting the best lawyers and law students in the country. Unfortunately, however, public defenders are only for people who cannot afford a lawyer, so if you can afford a lawyer and you are being investigated or charged with a crime, you need to hire a lawyer.
Q. Should I take a breathalyzer test?
A. You should know that if you fail to take a breathalyzer test after the police request one, Tennessee law mandates that your license will be suspended, regardless of whether you are ultimately found guilty of the DUI. If you have not been drinking, taking the test is often the easiest way to show the police that you are not intoxicated. However, machines are not foolproof, and a bad result on a breathalyzer test can sometimes make it very difficult to obtain a good result in court.
Q. The police did not read me my rights. Shouldn't my case be dismissed?
A. Miranda v. Arizona is a famous case in which the United States Supreme Court held that before a confession is admissible in court against a suspect, (1) the police must have informed the suspect that he has a right to counsel and to remain silent, and (2) that the suspect must have intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights. However, this only applies to custodial interrogation. In other words, Miranda only applies to those suspects who are in custody and who are being questioned. It does not protect statements made to private citizens, and it does not apply to statements that are not made in response to questioning. Even if the police violate Miranda, the violation usually only invalidates the statement itself or any fruits thereof, not other evidence that the police obtained independently of the statement.
Q. The victim wants to "drop the charges." Will my case be dismissed?
A. Prosecutors handle thousands of cases each year, and victims who want to "drop the charges" are not novel. While it is true that lots of cases are dismissed because witnesses fail to appear, it is also true that lots of cases are prosecuted anyway. If a victim tells a prosecutor that he fabricated the charges, the prosecutor might simply not believe the victim and try to proceed anyway. This can be difficult, but not always impossible. If a victim becomes uncooperative, a prosecutor may try to prosecute the suspect without the help of the victim. Often, in domestic violence cases, prosecutors believe that victims don't know what's good for them, and they will try to prosecute cases despite the victim's wishes to the contrary.
Q. Can I get a new judge?
A. Usually not.