What is a Pre-Arrest Investigation in Florida? What Are My Rights?

Getting arrested without warning is always a frightening and stressful experience. But thinking you are about to be arrested or worrying about suddenly being arrested can be equally upsetting and can paralyze you with fear. Here at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we want you to know ahead of time what your rights are and what you should and should not do if you are faced with a possible arrest. 



What Is a Pre-Arrest Investigation? 


When crimes occur in the presence of the police or when witness statements and strong supporting evidence justify an arrest, the police will often arrest a suspect almost immediately following the alleged crime. But other situations do not offer the police such easily obtained information. 


Law enforcement might only suspect that a crime is being committed and they must gather evidence to either confirm their suspicion or to discover that no crime can be proven. In other cases, police or federal agents know a crime was committed but don’t have sufficient evidence to identify the person responsible. And still, other cases involve circumstances in which the police strongly believe a known suspect committed what is clearly a crime, but they are missing sufficiently strong evidence to support an arrest and successful prosecution. 


In each of those scenarios, pre-arrest investigations are necessary to locate, collect, and organize evidence leading a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed and that the suspect committed it. That is what is called “probable cause.” 


Police and other law enforcement agencies often conduct extensive investigations before the person suspected of criminal conduct gets indicted or arrested. These “pre-arrest investigations” are common in white-collar cases such as bank or wire fraud, money laundering, and other offenses requiring the extensive collection of data, records, and witness interviews. But pre-arrest investigation can also occur in more violent crimes, like murder-for-hire, drug trafficking, or robbery. 


Police and Law Enforcement Tactics In Pre-Arrest Investigations 


Law enforcement agencies use a variety of investigative tactics to discover or dig up evidence before a person is arrested or indicted. The strategies police use depends largely on the nature of the case and the amount of reliable evidence they have already obtained. 


It’s common for the police to telephone a witness or a suspect to ask them to respond to the police station to answer questions. Often, police will visit someone’s home or work address without notice. The visit may be a genuine attempt to learn what a person may know about the crime, or they may visit someone to provoke fear and then monitor the person’s reactions. 


Other tactics police use in pre-arrest investigations include grand jury subpoenas or search warrants issued for telephone records, bank records, or other information they can obtain without notice to the suspect. 


Witness interviews are a necessary part of most investigations and are important indications of how vigorously the investigation is pursuing one or more theories.  


What to Do If You Are the Target of Pre-Arrest Investigation 


If you think you may be the subject of an ongoing police investigation, or that you are closely related to someone who is being investigated, contacting an experienced Tampa area criminal defense lawyer is the smartest thing you can do. It’s not a good idea for someone with little or no experience in the criminal justice system to deal directly with professional police investigators.  


The likelihood that a nervous civilian witness or suspect will outwit police investigators is very slim. And lying or telling half-truths to police destroys your credibility if you later decide to tell a more truthful story. But telling the whole, unblemished truth to police in the hopes that your honesty about your illegal actions will score points with the prosecutor is self-destructive and misguided optimism. 


  • If the police telephone you and ask for an interview, you should be polite, tell them you’ll call them back, and then call an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.  
  • If the police come to your house or place of work to question you about your involvement in an incident under investigation, you can ask them to wait while you call your lawyer first, or you can call the lawyer and ask the police to speak to them. 
  • It seems impolite or rude to decline to answer police questions, plus it may seem like it makes you look guilty. Well, it’s better to avoid a criminal conviction than to volunteer for a conviction because you have good manners. There’s no need to be impolite or unfriendly. You simply tell them you need to ask your lawyer what to do first. 
  • If you are invited to the police station to answer questions, again, call a criminal defense lawyer before going anywhere. 


What Are Your Rights When You Are Under Investigation? 


You always have the right to remain silent, to decline to answer any questions and to contact your lawyer before any questioning.  


Some people wrongly think they only have the right to remain silent once they are arrested. That is not true. When you are arrested, the police must advise you of your Miranda rights before they can use any of your answers against you. But the police’s obligation to tell you about your rights is not when you “get” the right.  Except in rare circumstances involving court-ordered immunity, you always have the right to remain silent. Don’t give the police the information they’re missing to convict you. 


Invoking Your Right To Remain Silent 


In recent years, the criminal justice system has trimmed back some of the legal protections enjoyed by criminal defendants. These are often very technical changes in criminal procedure that no layperson is likely to know about. So, let us be clear about how to invoke your right to remain silent. 


  • You MUST say the words out loud to ensure your rights are invoked. 
  • It is best if you simply say, “I am claiming my right to be silent and I want a lawyer before any questioning.” (Then don’t engage in any informal conversation during which many defendants let their guard down.) 
  • As an alternative, you can say, “I want to speak with a lawyer before I answer any questions.” 
  • Or, you can say, “I hereby invoke all my rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution. 


Learn More > Signs You May Be Under Investigation for a Crime in Florida  


Tampa Criminal Defense  


If you have been charged with a crime, we are on your side. Call Tampa’s experienced certified criminal defense law firm Stechschulte Nell. We are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us at 813-280-1244.  

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