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If the police have arrested you or want to question you in connection to some criminal investigation, it is perfectly normal to feel anxious. After all, depending on the severity of the crime, you may be in danger of losing your freedom, paying a steep fine or both. You also may have to live with a criminal record for the rest of your life.

Even if you think you understand the criminal justice system, you must realize that detectives and prosecutors typically have the upper hand. That is, they know how to investigate crimes, gather evidence and induce confessions. Having an attorney by your side may help to level the playing field.

Your right to legal counsel

According to the Brennan Center, many criminal defendants in the U.S. have a right to legal counsel that stems from the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This right generally kicks in when the criminal offense comes with the possibility of jail time.

If you have a right to legal counsel, you should probably take advantage of it. Remember, if you cannot afford to hire your own attorney, you likely can ask the court to appoint one to represent you.

Your legal defense

Even though you may think your right to an attorney extends only to trial, it likely encompasses all major phases of the criminal justice process from your arrest and interrogation to your trial and appeal.

Before performing a custodial interrogation, officers have a legal obligation to inform you of your right to talk to an attorney. If they fail to do so, you may be able to suppress any incriminating evidence they get from you.

Ultimately, though, by collaborating early with an experienced attorney, you may avoid doing or saying something that puts you in legal jeopardy.