For years, law enforcement officers in Colorado have lamented the fact that a large percentage of crimes go unreported because victims are afraid of what will happen to them if they contact the police. But we’re not talking about people worried about reprisal from representatives of organized crime, or even domestic violence victims scared that the person abusing them will retaliate.
Who are these silent victims? Illegal immigrants.
No One Should Have to Suffer In Silence
When crimes occur against people who are in this country illegally, often the victims are scared to notify the police because they believe they will be deported. These fears are unfounded but pervasive, and far too many people suffer because of them. But recently The Denver Post reported on a landmark agreement between officials from Colorado, the federal government, and Mexico that may change this.
Their stated goal is to work together to educate immigrants about the fact that no one will be deported for reporting a crime. At its most basic level, this seems like a good idea. After all, no one should have to live believing they can’t stand up to criminals without hurting themselves. But simply telling people they should call the police to turn people in may end up causing other problems, such as a wave of criminal charges with little merit against people who aren’t as familiar with the Colorado criminal justice system.
Charging More People Who Can’t Fight Back Isn’t the Answer
If you are surprised to be suddenly facing charges that you don’t understand, you need to know your rights and your best course of action, as well as what could happen to you. Below are four simple things anyone dealing with the police should be aware of.
You can hurt yourself. Even if you’re not totally familiar with how our criminal justice system works, you’ve probably heard that you have the right to remain silent. This means you don’t have to answer any questions the police ask you beyond those that identify you. In fact, doing so can seriously hurt your case. The best thing you can do is stay quiet and ask for a lawyer.
You can – and should – demand a lawyer. Everyone in this country has the legal right to an attorney, but if you wait for the legal system to assign someone to you, it may already be too late. When the police are breathing down your neck, you want a professional there as soon as possible. They can guide you on when to speak and when to keep quiet, ensure useful evidence is gathered before it disappears, and start building your case early. This can improve your chance of winning.
You will now have a criminal record. Having a criminal record can make it a lot harder to get a good job, secure a loan, and find housing. Simply getting arrested or charged means that you have a record. However, it is possible to clean your record so people in the general public (like employers) won’t see them – as long as you’re not convicted. That’s where getting the best legal representation comes into play. You want to do everything you can to avoid a conviction, and a knowledgeable criminal attorney will help.
Police make mistakes. One of the biggest reasons to have an experienced criminal lawyer by your side is so they can watch the police and ensure your rights are protected. If the police officer handling your arrest or processing violates your rights, it may be enough to get charges reduced or the case dropped altogether.
The bottom line is that everyone in this country deserves justice, but if we’re going to reach out to people to encourage them to report crimes, we also have to ensure those being accused have the knowledge and tools they need to fight back so that they can get positive results.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.