A criminal record can have profoundly negative effects on a person’s life. Convictions may prevent someone’s ability to get a job, apply for an apartment, or buy a home, and that’s not to mention the social stigma that goes along with being labeled a criminal.

The legal system is designed to punish wrong-doers and acquit the innocent; however, it doesn’t always work perfectly. That’s why legal experts strongly advise anyone accused of a crime to follow these five tips. The difference between doing so and not could be life-changing.

  1. Ask for a lawyer

When you are a suspect, one of three things may happen. You may be arrested immediately and booked into jail, you may be cited and given a court date, or you may be told you are a person of interest and released. At the same time, police gather evidence to establish probable cause to make an arrest. In any case, it’s essential to contact a lawyer right away.

“If you have found yourself on the wrong side of the law, up against the intimidating criminal justice system, you are probably feeling anxious and overwhelmed,” according to local law firm LaHood Norton Law Group. “Whether this is your first run-in with the law or not, you have a lot at stake. Don’t jeopardize your future and your freedom—turn to the professionals.”

  1. Do not resist arrest

If you get arrested, it’s important to cooperate, whether you committed a crime or not. Resisting arrest is a crime and can result in injuries to yourself or the law enforcement officers.

Additionally, it is vital to tell the truth about your name or other identifying information, as lying to a police officer is also a crime.

  1. Claim your right to remain silent

Hiring a lawyer is not an admission of guilt. Instead, it is your right to be represented by an attorney, just like your right under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to not to incriminate yourself. As such, LawInfo recommends remaining silent after giving your name and asking for an attorney.

“Do not assume that you can talk your way out of anything,” according to LawInfo. “Law enforcement is skilled at asking questions to get the answers they want or trap you in a pattern of telling half-truths.”

  1. Attend your court dates

Whether you are cited and released or booked into jail, attending court when scheduled is crucial. Failing to appear at your court date will result in forfeiting any bail you’ve paid and having a warrant issued for your arrest. You may be required to attend several hearings, including an arraignment, a trial, and sentencing, depending on the crime you have been charged with and whether you decide to take a plea deal.

  1. Communicate with your attorney

It does not pay to hide anything from your attorney, as the more information you share, the better your attorney can prepare a case to defend you. You will be protected by client-lawyer confidentiality, meaning your attorney must keep the information you share confidential.

That confidentiality doesn’t go away once your case is resolved, either.

“Confidential information is to remain confidential throughout the representation, and thereafter, even after the death of the client,” according to the American Bar Association.

After you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime, time is of the essence. LaHood Norton Law Group is highly experienced in criminal defense law and employs former prosecutors who are familiar with both sides of the courtroom. If you believe you have a case requiring legal representation, visit LaHood Norton Law Group online or call (210) 797-7700 to schedule a free and private consultation.