I don’t need an attorney yet……do I?
You receive a letter that you are under investigation. “I do not need a lawyer yet. I will just see what this is about.” You go through the interview and it is pretty intimidating. “I do not need a lawyer yet. I will see if they clear me.” You receive a notice to appear before the head of your agency to discuss the results and findings of the investigation. “I do not need a lawyer yet. I’ll see what the chief has to say.” The chief meets with you and advises the charges were sustained and she says you have an opportunity to state your case one last time. “I wish I had a lawyer. How did this happen?!??!”
So you hire a lawyer to appeal the chief’s decision. The lawyer will now file the appeal based on the letter you received, the interview you gave and the meeting you had with the chief. For better or worse, your attorney can only work with the case you hand him.
The role of a lawyer in an internal investigation is complicated. Your rights during investigations may arise from a Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, your state constitution, the United States Constitution, a collective bargaining agreement or the policies of your department. Even though the role of an attorney may be limited in many instances, the role of the attorney as a counselor is never limited. An attorney can help you ensure that your rights are protected, make certain that you review the appropriate policies and documents prior to making any statements and help you organize your thoughts.
When you do not involve an attorney until the appeal phase, your attorney is forced to appeal the “record” you hand him. Any missteps you commit along the way will affect the strength of your appeal. In some instances, a mistake on your part could preclude an appeal entirely. As I stated in previous posts on this blog, administrative deadlines are “hard” deadlines. Missing a deadline affects your rights.
So, here is the bottom line. You should begin protecting your appeal rights as soon as you believe you may be subject to discipline. Develop a relationship with an attorney early to make it easier to reach out to him. When it comes to consulting an attorney early, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.