Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about criminal law or criminal defense attorneys, but the unfortunate truth is that what we don’t know can hurt us. It’s always possible for innocent people to get caught up in criminal investigations and even to be prosecuted for crimes that they did not commit. Not understanding the basics of criminal law can be devastating, as a few mistakes early on in an investigation can quickly erode our chances of exercising our full rights and walking free.

Here’s a roundup of facts that criminal defense attorneys wish people knew about criminal law, the investigative process, and hiring an attorney.

Speaking to the Police Won’t Help You

Most of us were raised to believe that the police are our friends and that they are here to help us. The police certainly are here to help our communities at large, but misunderstanding that commitment can be a serious mistake when you’re involved in a criminal investigation. The police are not your friends. Fact of the matter is they’re not—and shouldn’t be— the friends of any individual. So chatting with them can be a very bad idea, explains an experienced Denver criminal lawyer.

By and large, experts agree, speaking to the police without an attorney will not help you. Even if you’re completely innocent, and even if the police claim they don’t consider you a suspect, you should exercise your right to remain silent if you are arrested — and before that, too.

Get a lawyer. You can always speak to the police with your lawyer later on if you and your counsel decide that that’s the right move. But you can never take back anything you say before you call your attorney.

You Shouldn’t Wait Until You’re Charged to Get a Lawyer

You should call an attorney as soon as you have any inkling that you are involved in a criminal investigation. You certainly need to get an attorney if you are arrested, but there’s no need to actually wait that long.

Far too many suspects wait until they are arrested to call a lawyer. By then, of course, the investigation has already reached its conclusion that you are at fault somehow. The better move is to call a lawyer early on. Since you’ve already learned that you shouldn’t speak to the police without one, you’ll be in much better shape having a lawyer representing you before the authorities settle on arresting you, You’ll be able to work with your lawyer to make responsible statements, or keep silent depending on the situation and the advice of your trusted attorney, limiting your risk of an arrest while also preparing your case in the event that you are.

Time is of the Essence

The best thing you can do when under investigation is to act fast and follow the rules above. The less you say before you have a lawyer and the sooner you hire one, the better. Consulting with a lawyer as early as possible means that your attorney has more time to develop your defense. Keep in mind that the police want to act fast, too. If you’re innocent, you and your attorney may decide to speak with the investigators, allowing them to follow-up on leads before time-sensitive evidence dries up.

Of course, what you and your attorney actually choose to do will depend on the specifics of your case, and you should only take advice from a licensed attorney. But if you are aware of the basics above, you’ll know that you should team up with an attorney fast and before speaking to investigators, which will give you and your attorney the widest possible range of options for protecting your interests and exercising your legal rights.