There is a reason you have a right to an attorney. There is a reason the court could even provide someone for free — albeit that someone is potentially a distracted or otherwise less-than-ideal public defender.
Criminal law is complex, and there is no such thing as a minor charge. If it is serious enough for you to have charges, it is big. Protecting your rights should be your first priority.
Your right to silence
Your first challenge is yourself. The right to silence goes beyond not confessing to a crime. Prosecutors might use almost anything you say or do — if you let them, that is — to secure the maximum possible sentence:
- Statements you make to police
- Patterns in your silence
- Videos taken of you
- Recorded conversations
- Posts you make on the Internet
One of the things that would not probably damage your case is asking for legal counsel. Listen especially carefully if police or investigators make something that sounds like a threat.
For example, they might say that their initial deal would be off the table after calling an attorney. That could be true: Maybe they know there is not a criminal defense lawyer on the planet that would advise you to take the deal.
Your right to a trial
You have rights beyond what they would read you during an arrest. Exercising some of these might help you build your case, put you in a better negotiating process and so on — again, criminal defense is complex.
Citizens have the right under Amendment VI of the US Constitution to a speedy, public trial. Would you let prosecutors rush you to court under the guise of protecting your best interests? Do you know how to stand up to them in these situations?
Your right to be free
The Constitution also gives citizens some protections against unjust or excessive imprisonment. Like many other rights, you would probably want to exert this to your greatest advantage.
In short, everything you do during investigation, arrest, negotiation and trial is likely to become part of the process. Every action should work to achieve your best possible outcome.