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Making a police report can be a serious step that some people may prefer to avoid. On the other hand, speaking to a lawyer may not always be the first advised step. Being sure whether to contact the police or a lawyer can help individuals protect their legal rights.

When to Contact the Police

There are several instances in which a citizen may wish to contact the police.

To Report a Crime

If the individual witnessed criminal behavior or suspicious conduct, he or she may wish to report this information to the police. Law enforcement’s duty is to protect the public.

If another person has been assaulted, murdered, robbed or otherwise physically injured because of the conduct of another person, law enforcement will likely begin a criminal investigation.

Likewise, suspicious activity such as slow moving vehicles at night time, unknown people in the neighborhood that appear to be “staking out” the area or other behavior that does not match the time of day or community may indicate that police should be involved.

While the individual should strive to provide accurate information to law enforcement if he or she decides to make a police report, he or she should not make up information or make up a crime just to get attention as this can put the individual in his or her own legal peril.

Mandated Reporters

Usually, people are not required by law to report a crime. However, some individuals have a legal obligation to report certain crimes, such as perceived abuse on children or the elderly.

There may be a special hotline that a doctor, teacher or psychologist must report the abuse, or the relevant statute may indicate that any communication with law enforcement will satisfy this obligation.

Individuals may also be required to report a crime if they have a special relationship with the victim, such as spouses or parents and children.

To Document an Incident

Sometimes contacting a lawyer first and then following up with contact to police may seem suspect, such as when a person later files a civil suit. In some instances, a person may wish to contact the police simply to document that an event occurred, such as jewelry being stolen out of the home or someone crashing into their vehicle. Additionally, lawyers are concerned about being able to prove a case.

If there is no record of certain events happening, the case may not be as strong. For example, if a person is being threatened or harassed by someone, a lawyer may not be able to prove this occurred when seeking a no-contact order. However, the lawyer may advise the victim to make a police report each and every time that an incident of this nature arises to help document it.

When to Contact a Lawyer First

However, there are several instances where it may be in a person’s best legal interests to first contact a lawyer.

Civil Matters

Generally, police handle criminal matters. If a person is facing a civil matter, such as being sued, having a dispute with a neighbor or going through divorce, he or she likely will wish to contact a lawyer. Law enforcement may not get involved in such matters if they are deemed a civil matter, although there can be times when civil issues segue into criminal matters, such as a child custody dispute that results in custodial interference.

Confusion about Rights

If an individual is not aware of his or her rights in any particular instance, a lawyer can help explain the individual’s rights to him or her. This allows the individual to have a better understanding of his or her options when facing a difficult situation.

Involvement in Crime

If an individual has committed a crime, helped someone else commit a crime or believes that he or she may bare some criminal culpability, he or she should contact a lawyer before talking to the police.

The lawyer can help advise the client about the next steps that he or she should take if the client wants to confess to the crime. If the client wants to protect his or her freedom, the lawyer may give specific advice to help accomplish this goal, such as not contacting the police or talking to them without the presence of his or her lawyer.

Additionally, a lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea agreement if a crime is involved. If the individual knows particular information that may assist the authorities, the lawyer may be able to negotiate immunity for the client.

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