WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OR CHARGED WITH A CRIME OR BECOME THE SUBJECT OF AN INVESTIGATION
Attorney Michael A. Fiumara knows firsthand how to defend teachers. For over a decade, Mr. Fiumara served as a California Teachers Association (CTA) GLS-Trained teacher advocate. Mr. Fiumara has handled numerous sensitive cases over the years-many of them being high profile cases.
DO’S AND DON’TS FOR TEACHERS
The most important piece of advice that we can offer to a Teacher who is accused or charged with a crime or becomes the suspect in an investigation is to, “SAY NOTHING!”
The Teacher, whether questioned by an administrator or the police, must simply say that my counsel has instructed me to remain silent – blame the attorney for not being allowed to talk. The police will attempt to use all kinds of tactics to have you make a statement or simply give “your side” of the story – RESIST doing so even if the police say we know you are innocent or that we will not arrest you. Do not fall for any of these tactics.
The reason for silence is very simple. Teachers love to explain everything and sincerely believe that by doing so they will vindicate themselves and get the matter resolved. This is not true because very well trained police investigators and detectives use methods of questioning that are misleading and open to different interpretation. Besides, there is no guarantee that our Teachers’ statements will be written down correctly, or in the same order the question was asked to insure context and accuracy. It is much better to “SAY NOTHING.”
The Relationship between the Teacher and the School/District
The School/District, as the employer, owes a duty of loyalty to the teacher. The School/District and its officials should scrupulously honor the presumption of innocence and do nothing to prejudice the Teacher. Accordingly, the School/District should not assist any investigating agency in gathering evidence against the Teacher. The School/District should do everything to ensure that the Teacher’s constitutional rights are protected.
What the School/District Should do Upon Learning of a Criminal Investigation
Because the School/District owes the Teacher a duty of loyalty, the School/District should do the following upon learning of the existence of a criminal investigation.
Provide immediate notice of any investigation against the Teacher of which the School/District is aware;
Respect the privacy of the matter, and discuss the issue with no one;
Immediately refer the Teacher to competent counsel or advise the Teacher to speak to their Union Representative;
Provide documents to the government entity conducting a criminal investigation only in response to a properly issued subpoena; and
Create an environment where any investigation will be both fair and balanced. Allow the defense attorney and the investigator access to the School/District staff to ensure that the Teacher may develop facts and evidence in his or her favor.
What the School/District Should Not do Upon Learning of a Criminal Investigation
Make itself the arm of the investigating agency, police or otherwise and question the Teacher about the allegations;
Pressure the Teacher to waive his or her right to remain silent and cooperate with the investigating agency; and
Deny the Teacher’s counsel equal access to the School/District and staff.
Steps to be taken by the Teacher’s Counsel
Conduct a comprehensive interview of the Teacher and all possible witnesses as soon as possible while evidence is recent;
Coordinate the defense of the criminal allegations with any administrative proceeding that is pending. It is important that the Teacher not do anything in the administrative proceeding that will compromise the Teacher’s position in the criminal matter (all evidence submitted in the Administrative Hearing can and will be used by the prosecution against the Teacher in the criminal matter);
Contact the investigating agency and advise that any contact with the Teacher will be through counsel;
Attempt to obtain as much information about the allegations from the investigating agency, police or District Attorney;
Professionally request that any arrest be made discreetly and quietly with as little fanfare as possible and after bail arrangements have been made;
Develop character references;
Be sensitive to the adverse effects that any plea bargain may have on the Teacher’s credential so as to preserve the Teacher’s ability to make a living;
Pursue all possible alternative dispute resolutions to spare the Teacher the risk and indignity of a stressful criminal prosecution; and
Be prepared to go to jury trial if necessary and in the Teacher’s interests.
The first rule is that silence is golden; just say nothing. In the alternative we recommend that the accused merely say I want to be cooperative, but my attorney (counsel) has advised me to remain silent.
When law enforcement investigates a Teacher, if is both stressful and scary. Regardless of what the Teacher may or may not have done, he or she is entitled to the full protections of the law, including the presumption of innocence. If possible, the Teacher should be continued on salary to enable him or her to maintain his or her livelihood.