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Police Investigations

Are you afraid the police suspect you of a serious crime? There are certain signs you should see when an investigation is aimed at you. First, you should understand what police officers need in order to get an arrest warrant.

They must develop documented proof - through physical evidence, witness testimony, or the suspect's own statements - that the person acted with criminal intent and physically committed the crime. An accusation by one witness, a single hair, even an uncorroborated confession won't do. It has to be enough to meet standards set by the courts that there is "probable cause" to issue an arrest warrant.

Once they have that proof, police file a probable cause affidavit with a California superior court judge, swearing that the evidence points to a specific suspect or suspects who acted with criminal intent to violate the California penal code. If the magistrate is convinced it meets the court standard, he will sign an arrest warrant, which authorizes the police to arrest the person.

Unless you are involved in drug trafficking or other major crimes, you can forget sophisticated surveillance and wiretaps. The investigation will follow a basic path to the arrest warrant, focused first on proving that you had access to the place where the crime occurred; next, that you were there, or could have been there, at the time the crime occurred; then, that you had the ability to commit the crime; and finally, that you performed the action necessary for the crime to occur.

Under investigation by the police

Sometimes, the police will simply tell you when you are under investigation. They will do that in hopes of rattling you into making a statement, or to see what you will do when you think they aren't looking. Your reactions could help give them part of the evidence necessary to obtain an arrest warrant.

They also may ask you questions that are ostensibly about another person or an unrelated crime. But pay careful attention to the questions, and they way they are asked. Are they designed to reveal as much about you as they are the supposed topic? Could the answer put you at a certain place at a certain time, or provide details about your own actions in a given instance? That could be a sign the police want an arrest warrant for you, not someone else.

The point of the initial interview will be to lock you into a story. Once you make the mistake of giving them a statement, they will return with additional questions, so they can use any discrepancies between your first and second statements as evidence you are lying. That follow-up interview is another sign you are a candidate for an arrest warrant.

Other times, they will investigate around you until they have enough for an arrest warrant. The most common method is taking statements. For example, if you are suspected of stealing money from your job, the police will interview your co-workers, friends and neighbors; talk to your bank; and, check with businesses where you recently made purchases.

Gathering evidence against you

Although they try to conduct investigations as surreptitiously as possible, it is often impossible to keep at least some indications from reaching you.

It could be as clear as a neighbor mentioning an inquiry from the police about you, or as subtle as a change in the demeanor of a normally friendly bank clerk. That might be an indication you are a suspect and an arrest warrant could be coming. Take note of this activity, but do not interfere in any way, such as by telling people not to answer questions. That could be construed as evidence of guilt or, worse, a criminal attempt to tamper with evidence.

At some point, the police will want to conduct a more formal interview, preferably without an attorney present. In cases involving violent crimes, they may ask you to volunteer a DNA sample at the same time. Again, no matter how friendly they make the request, even if they tell you they just need to rule you out, this means you are a suspect facing a possible arrest warrant.

And of course, if the police ever, for any reason, ask to search your property, serve a search warrant on your property, or subpoena a third party for records pertaining to you, you should understand that you are definitely a suspect. An arrest warrant might not be far behind.

The moment you realize you are a suspect, contact a criminal defense attorney.


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