Case Study: How To Avoid Criminal Charges If You Are A Suspect

Case Study: How To Avoid Criminal Charges If You Are A Suspect

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A recent case handled by the Law Office of John Freeman demonstrates the importance of a suspect in a criminal case retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In this case, our early intervention in a fatal shooting lead to a quick release from jail for our client and ultimately prevented our client from being charged with murder.

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A Shooting On Valentine’s Day

On the morning of February 14th, Mr. Freeman received an emergency call about a woman who had been taken into police custody in Lansing, Michigan, after shooting a man in an act the police labeled “domestic violence”.  After being retained, we took action immediately to protect our client’s rights.  We quickly suspected that our client acted in self-defense.

We reached out to the Lansing Police Department and obtained the name of the detective assigned to the case. Attorney John Freeman called the detective to learn about the situation from law enforcement’s perspective.  This initial conversation (in any criminal case) is an opportunity to learn the police perspective on what happened.  Critical questions include whether a decision has been made to charge the suspect? What charges are being considered? Where is the suspect now?  Has the suspect made a statement?  How can we contact the suspect?  Attorney Freeman’s nearly 30 years of experience, and his background as a prosecutor who routinely responded to violent crime cases, including shootings, positions him to understand what is happening in the minds of law enforcement at this stage and to make the most of conversations like these.

At this point in the Valentine’s Day case, the person shot was undergoing medical treatment and was still alive.  The charge being considered was Assault with Intent to Murder, a serious felony. However, our client had not yet been charged, and she remained in police custody.

Next, our defense team exchanged calls with the jail, leading the suspect, now our client, to calling our law office collect on a police recorded line. This call was straightforward and essentially involved us telling her what was going on, and reassuring her that we had her back.  Such calls from jail must be handled with care, because they are recorded and anything that a suspect says could be used against them. An experienced lawyer knows not to lead the conversation toward a discussion of the underlying facts.

From here, we continued digging deeper into the situation. We exchanged more calls with the jail and the detective, ensuring our client was treated appropriately. We quickly teamed with a private investigator to learn more about the man who was shot. Taking such a step can shed light on things like a history of violence, drug and alcohol use, or other behaviors that could be a factor when defending our client.

Soon, we learned that the man who was shot passed away in the hospital. The stakes got infinitely higher.  Our client became a murder suspect.

Self-Defense By A Victim Of Domestic Abuse

After a few hours of information gathering, Attorney Freeman went from our law office in Troy to Lansing to speak directly with our client in lockup. Regardless of the time of day or night, such a conversation is always vital, particularly in a violent crime investigation. This in-person discussion is not recorded.  It is not listened to by police or prosecutors. It is a confidential, one-on-one between attorney and client.

In this discussion, it became abundantly clear to Attorney Freeman that this shooting was a justified act of self-defense by a domestic abuse victim. She had kept herself safe from further harm from an abuser, so now it was our job to keep her safe from criminal charges.

A Bold Move From An Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

We need to be absolutely clear: People accused of crimes should invoke their right to remain silent. They should not talk to police. They should not give a statement to a detective. That is, in most situations.

But this was not most situations. This was a case of self-defense. Under Michigan law, self-defense is an “affirmative defense”. This means that the burden is on the defense to introduce evidence that the accused was defending themselves. In this case, that meant making a statement to the detective, which our client did based on Mr. Freeman’s advice. This was a bold decision, so it was important for us to be clear with our client about all options and to work with her to ensure that the truth became known through  a carefully worded, and recorded, conversation with detectives.

The next morning, our client was released from jail!

While this was an important victory thanks to Attorney Freeman’s bold strategy, the process was not over yet. While the prosecutor allowed the our client to be released, she was still a suspect.  The prosecutor directed the police to continue investigating before making a final decision about charges.

How The First 24 Hours Set The Stage For The Rest Of The Case

Over the following months, law enforcement continued their investigation, following up on a variety of leads, executing a search warrant of the location where the shooting occurred and more.

Meanwhile, we continued to work with our client, not only in terms of responding to the actions of law enforcement, but simply helping her move forward following this devastating event. People suspected of crimes often find that their jobs are at risk, so helping to protect a client’s employment is necessary. In criminal cases, police often seize property from the suspect. We worked for the return of our client’s seized property, including her cellphone and computer. We provided multi-faceted representation our clients deserve.

Then, on a Tuesday night about four months after the shooting, our client was cleared of all criminal charges. While we cannot downplay the entirety of the work we did in this case, it is obvious that the steps Attorney Freeman, and the rest of our team took during those first 24 hours had a profound impact. One misstep during that timeframe and the suspect may have been kept in jail, or may even have been charged with murder. But experienced representation prevailed and ultimately set the stage for the final outcome: the exoneration of a woman who had stood her ground against a domestic abuser.