Denver is a beautiful city, and quite a safe one. That’s thanks in part to federal, state, and local laws that are reasonably fair. It’s also thanks to hardworking law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, and judges. For most of us, it’s easy to see all of these things as being on our side.

But don’t forget another side to safety and legality in Denver. While nobody wants to be the victim of a crime, it’s also true that nobody wants to be charged and convicted of one. And the unfortunate truth is that such things can happen unfairly. Police can make mistakes, and so can prosecutors. Laws can be unfair, or applied unfairly. Mistakes and malpractice at various points in the legal system can result in bad arrests and convictions — leading to unfair suffering on the part of everyday Denverites, including innocent people.

If you’re used to being on the “right” side of the law, you may not spend much time thinking about Denver’s laws and criminal justice system. But if you end up under scrutiny by the police or charged by prosecutors, what you don’t know about the system could hurt you. Here are three things criminal defense attorneys in Denver wish you knew.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a “suspect”

In the media, people love to make a big deal over whether or not people are “suspected” of a crime. The police may be “investigating” someone, the news reports — or maybe there’s a “person of interest.”

But have you ever seen a crime TV show or movie end with the police throwing up their hands and saying “we can’t arrest that guy, because he wasn’t a suspect”? Of course not! Police don’t have to call anyone a “suspect” if they don’t want to, and they are certainly not required to let you know if you’re under suspicion. They don’t even have to tell you that they are police officers!

In fact, it’s better for them not to. They want you to help them. They want you to tell them what you know. And they know you’ll be more likely to talk if you are “not a suspect.”

Here’s the thing: Being friendly with the police just because you’re “not a suspect” can cause you to incriminate yourself. In fact, you could be innocent and still end up in big trouble.

Don’t talk to the police!

Many of us are used to thinking of the police as our protectors. And, in many ways, they are. But if the police think a crime took place, they’re going to investigate — and that could be bad for you, even if you are innocent.

Innocent people confess to crimes with alarming frequency. Innocent people can say things that fit into a sometimes false narrative that the police are building in their investigation. Innocent people can accidentally say false things that get them in trouble — or true things that get them in trouble, too.

And here’s the thing: you don’t have to talk to the police. No law says so. In fact, the laws say you have the right not to!

The safest course of action is to not speak to police. It’s too easy to get yourself in trouble when you talk to the police, and virtually no good can come of it for you. Speak to your lawyer, not to the police (if you feel you must communicate with them, go through your lawyer).

And if you don’t have a lawyer, get one.

It’s never too early to get an attorney

You probably already know that you need an attorney if you are arrested and charged with a crime. But did you know that, by that point, you are already well on the way to being convicted?

Police don’t want to help you prepare for a court case. They’re not going to give you a friendly heads-up when they start investigating you, and they’re not going to share everything they know. They’re going to wait until they have everything that they think they need to convict you — and then, and only then, will they arrest you.

By then, you could have given the police a lot to go on. You could have made statements you should not have, or done things that they will use as evidence. Meanwhile, the evidence that may exonerate you is going cold: witnesses are forgetting things (or convincing themselves that they saw what the police hope they saw), documents are being lost, videos are being deleted, and so on.

Get yourself a Denver criminal attorney sooner, and you’ll have a better chance of beating the case. Your lawyer can follow up on other leads and help you make sure that you don’t incriminate yourself. Getting an attorney early on will reduce the chances that you are arrested in the first place. And if you are arrested, your attorney will be prepared to defend you. That’s a lot better than waiting until you’re in jail to make a phone call to a lawyer!