A murder investigation can be a complex and lengthy process. The crime may fall under either state or federal authority, so more than one law enforcement agency may be handling the case. If you are involved, you may be unsure of who to talk to and how to answer questions. You don’t have to deal with a murder investigation alone. Contact Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today so we can help you navigate the complex investigation and criminal justice process.
If the police have contacted you while investigating a violent crime, you should call a skilled and experienced Roanoke criminal defense attorney. Even if you know you are not involved in the crime, if you say the wrong thing to the police you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Call today at (540) 343-9349.
How Does a Murder Investigation Begin?
The investigation of a murder begins when the police respond to the crime scene. They secure the area and make observations regarding time of day, weather, lighting, witnesses, position of the body, signs of struggle, and other evidence at the scene. If an officer immediately identifies a potential suspect, their observations may be biased in recording evidence that points towards that person, even though that person may be innocent.
The police may ask a judge for a warrant to search the home or place of business of suspected individuals. A judge should only issue a warrant when the police can show there is reasonable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence is likely to be found at the place where they intend to conduct the search. However, because officers sometimes record biased evidence, warrants are often issued without reasonable cause.
If you are questioned at the beginning of a murder investigation, you may not realize you are a suspect. The police may not even read you your rights, and you may not be aware that you have a right to legal advice at that stage of the process. However, any time a police officer is questioning you, you are at risk of saying something that will put you on their list of suspects. If a police officer wants to talk to you about an ongoing investigation, make sure you seek the assistance of an experienced Roanoke criminal defense attorney.
Making an Arrest for Murder
If the police don’t find a suspect at the scene, they will try to determine who the suspect is by piecing together the evidence they collect and the testimony they obtain from witnesses. The police may continue to work on the case as long as they have leads to follow. If they ask you questions, you may become a suspect even if you know you were not involved in the murder. To avoid being arrested, contact a criminal defense attorney for legal advice immediately.
Once the police have enough evidence to connect an individual to a crime, they may seek an arrest warrant. Once the suspect is in custody, law enforcement authorities will attempt to get them to make incriminating statements. The police must inform people in their custody of their rights to remain silent and to obtain an attorney. However, if you’re not under arrest or if you are technically free to leave, you may be questioned without being read your rights. If you voluntarily go to the police station, you are not “in custody,” and the police do not have to read your rights to you.
You may not even realize your freedom is in jeopardy. It’s not a good idea to talk with the police. Even an innocent misstatement about a fact not directly related to the crime may be used to prove that the suspect is untrustworthy and has something to hide.
Charging a Suspect with Murder
Once the police claim they have produced enough evidence to support a murder charge against the suspect, murder charges will be issued. The prosecution must take the case to a grand jury to issue an indictment, or a formal charge, against the suspect. Often, the grand jury is a rubber stamp procedure, and the grand jury rarely disagrees with the prosecution’s suggestions.
The prosecutor will present the evidence to a group of grand jurors, who must decide whether the evidence shows that there is at least probable cause to believe that the suspect committed the crime. Sometimes that evidence may have been obtained under questionable circumstance and murder charges are made with very little probable cause.
The defense is not allowed to present its own evidence at the indictment hearing, so the grand jury almost always chooses to bring murder charges against the alleged perpetrator. In some cases, the only witness who testifies before the grand jury is the lead detective on the case, who will portray the suspect as guilty.
Once the indictment issues, the court will give notice of the initial hearing to the suspect if they are already in detention. If the suspect is at large, the court will issue a bench warrant and the police will attempt to apprehend the suspect so the trial process can begin. During the suspect’s first court appearance, they should be advised of the right to a lawyer and given the opportunity to retain a lawyer or have court appointed counsel.
How a Roanoke Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If you’re being investigated or facing an indictment for murder or another serious felony, your future will depend on the legal representation that you choose. Whether the police have questioned you in the initial stages of an investigation or you’ve been arrested after a court issued a bench warrant against you, the sooner you speak with a lawyer, the better.
Your Roanoke criminal defense lawyer will act as an intermediary between you and the authorities and ensure that your rights are respected at every stage of the criminal justice process.
- The police must respect your rights to remain silent and to obtain a lawyer. Once the police have you in custody, they must inform you of these rights. If they obtain any statements from you without reading you your rights, or if they continue to question you after you’ve requested a lawyer, your incriminating statements may not be admissible at trial.
- The police cannot stop you or arrest you without good reason. The police cannot pull your vehicle over unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you’ve done something illegal. In order to arrest you, they must have probable cause. If you are stopped or arrested without probable cause, the information and evidence they obtain may be inadmissible in court.
- You have no obligation to speak to the police at all. You have an absolute right to simply keep walking unless you are ordered to stop. If the police ask you questions, you may request a lawyer prior to answering anything.
- The police cannot conduct unreasonable searches. Law enforcement can only search your home or place of business if they have your consent, a warrant, or are acting on emergency circumstances. If the police searched your home under the authority of an arrest warrant—as opposed to a search warrant—any evidence they obtained form the search should be excluded from the trial.
Facing murder charges in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with a crime related to murder in Virginia, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us at (540) 343-9349.