If you have been accused of a sex crime in New Jersey, you clearly have a lot of questions. Hopefully, your research has led you to this blog and I hope it has helped you answer some of your questions. One of the fist issues you will have to decide if whether or not to hire a lawyer. As a general rule of thumb, if you are asking yourself this question for any reason, the answer is YES. This is so obvious that many people not faced with such an accusation may be surprised that this is even an issue, but unfortunately, it is.
There are a number of reasons why people may not want to hire a lawyer right away but the primary reason is likely that hiring a lawyer makes you look guilty. What most people don’t realize is that if you are under investigation, you are likely already guilty in the minds of those investigating you. The investigation is often not to determine if you are guilty, but to determine if they can prove it. I know this from working with prosecutors and law enforcement for many years and in many different capacities. One quick example not related to sex crimes is a person I represented that was accused of engaging in a multi-million dollar stock fraud. 2 US attorneys, 2 FBI agents and 1 IRS criminal division agent all told me that they were 100% certain that my client was guilty. However, through working up the case, I was able to prevent him from ever getting arrested. While not every prosecutor or detective will give their personal opinion like that, you can read between the lines. Nevertheless, we have helped many people avoid getting charged. And remember, if you never get charged, you never get convicted.
There is no one way to assist a client accused of a sex offense. Thus, saying something like “I never let my client speak to law enforcement” or “I always do this or that” is foolish and is often the mark of an amateur (in my opinion anyway). While lawyers of course learn from past experience and build upon that, every case presents its own unique set of circumstances and challenges. As a result, the defense strategy at the beginning of the case should also be unique.
By not hiring an attorney before you are arrested, you are either going to stonewall the police or you will give a statement. Neither tactic will likely benefit you. If you stonewall them, they may decide that you are guilty and that they are onto something. If you talk to them, you may give the detectives key evidence that they can use against you without even knowing about. Trust me when I tell you that you are not prepared for their interviewing techniques. Have some people given statements to police and walked out unscathed? Of course, but this is not the norm. A large percentage of people sitting in prison right now are there because they gave a statement. Without it, the State is left in the dark. But again, there is more to defense than simply taking the 5th.
Of course, hiring a lawyer before you are arrested does not mean that you will not be arrested. I can only say that in our experience, the vast majority of clients that have hired us prior to arrest have never been arrested (and thus, not convicted). However, early involvement in the case could lead to a much better plea bargain. While this has been obvious in our practice, prosecutors have often told us that we are getting a better deal primarily because jumped in the case so early. In fact, one prosecutor told me that she was talking to another prosecutor before our meeting, who said “that Jef Henninger is really on top of his cases…he calls us right away”. They clearly deal with many lawyers so that fact that I stood out speaks volumes to our strategy.
As if all of this wasn’t a good enough reason to hire a lawyer at the first sign of trouble, one of the best reasons to hire a lawyer at the first sign of trouble is that it could save you a ton of money, not to mention embarrassment and stress. Without having to attend court appearances and prepare for trials and motions, it is very cost effective to hire a lawyer right away. While we make a lot less money, we still encourage everyone accused of a sex offense (or any other crime for that matter) to hire us right away. Our focus is our client’s best interests, not ours. Besides, if we have to choose between making a lot of money but having our client risk being convicted versus not making much but making sure our client never gets convicted, we’ll choose the latter every single time.
One last thing to keep in mind is that sex crimes allegations do not always come directly from law enforcement. They could come from parents of the child, schools, medical professionals and DYFS. Unlike many defense lawyers, our team of tough, smart defense lawyers have extensive experience with DYFS (now known as DCPP). We also have extensive experience with custody disputes and divorce as well. Thus, we are fully equipped to handle any sex abuse allegation that may arise.