Pre-Filing of Criminal Charges

Clearwater and St. Petersburg Attorneys Advocating for the Rights of Defendants

Many people do not know what to do when they are contacted by the police during a criminal investigation. If you have taken the time to find this website, you probably know that you need to protect your rights. However, you may not understand how critical it is to retain a St. Petersburg or Clearwater criminal defense lawyer right away. Often, law enforcement officers contact suspects to ask them questions before the arrest and before turning the information over to the prosecutors. They may be looking for confirmation of information that they already have, or for incriminating evidence. If law enforcement officers have contacted you, you may be in the pre-filing stage of criminal proceedings. You should hire a knowledgeable attorney who can develop a strong strategy to prevent charges from being filed or negotiate with the prosecutor. Will Hanlon represents people who need a drug crime lawyer or representation against potential charges based on sex crimes, theft offenses, domestic violence, white collar crimes, and other offenses.

Pre-Filing of Criminal Charges

An almost universal misunderstanding is that when you are arrested, you are being charged, or that you cannot be charged unless you are arrested. However, the charges are not brought by the police office but by the prosecutor, and the prosecutor can make the decision to charge you before or after the arrest.

You may wonder, "Why hire an attorney if I have not been arrested and criminal charges have not been filed?" The short answer is that an experienced criminal defense attorney understands how the prosecutor is likely to view the case, or how they might spin the facts of the situation to develop a case. When you retain an experienced attorney early in the process, during the pre-filing stage, the attorney can influence whether you are arrested and whether you are charged.

A police officer is allowed to arrest you once they have probable cause to do so. Probable cause exists when there is information that would cause a reasonable person to think that a crime had been committed and that the suspect in question — the person about to be arrested — committed the crime. For example, the police may have received an accusation that you were involved in a rape. They may come to question you in order to get information necessary to determine whether a sex crime has been committed and whether you are the person who committed it.

In some cases, when you are being questioned, the police may only be starting to build a case against you. They are asking questions in order to obtain the probable cause to arrest you. They may not get enough for an arrest and be unsure which next steps to take. Accordingly, they may hand the information over to the State Attorney's Office, which has sole discretion about whether to file formal criminal charges. A prosecutor reviews the information and makes a decision about whether to file charges.

Sometimes a prosecutor chooses to file charges regardless of whether witnesses want to testify, but in some cases, a criminal defense attorney's involvement can sway the prosecutor's decision. An experienced attorney may be able to refocus the prosecution on weaknesses in the case. If this is done early in the process, it can result in no arrest taking place and no charges being filed.

If you have already been arrested, you should be aware that the arrest is not a guarantee that you will be charged. An attorney can help make sure that the situation does not get worse. You have a right not to answer questions that could incriminate you, and you should ask to speak to an attorney rather than volunteer information that could inadvertently strengthen the prosecutor's case.

Sometimes, a detective will tell a suspect: "I am going to hand this information over to the state attorney, and they'll decide whether to file a criminal charge, but don't worry about it. They may not file a charge at all." Do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Failing to secure an attorney can make a huge difference regarding whether charges are filed or precisely which charges are filed.

Hire a Skillful Criminal Defense Attorney in the Clearwater or St. Petersburg Areas

A prosecutor can be swayed by an experienced criminal defense lawyer, particularly if they have gained respect for that attorney from prior interactions. In Clearwater and St. Petersburg, the pre-filing stage of a criminal case can be crucial as to whether you are charged and the offense with which you are charged. Our founding attorney, Will Hanlon, has been providing vigorous representation since 1994 to people seeking a sex crime lawyer or representation against charges involving drugs, theft, acts of violence, or fraud. We are committed to defending the rights of the accused in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Newport Richey, and Dade City. Call Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or use our online form to set up your appointment.