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Regardless of the circumstances, it is frightening to face criminal charges. Anybody in this situation knows what it feels like to have her or his future on the line, and indeed, there is a lot at stake when you are accused of committing a crime. If you are in this situation—whether it is the first time—there are a few things you should be certain to do to protect your future and avoid a conviction.

Below are three essential steps to follow that all criminal defendants should be aware of. Whether you have been charged with petty theft or a felony, follow these three tips to make the process easier and ensure your future is not jeopardized any more than it already has been: 

Get your story straight

One of the factors that can be the most damaging to your defense is any appearance of inconsistency. Research published in Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, however, indicates that an inconsistent alibi might not necessarily be indicative of dishonesty. Regardless, you should avoid any appearance of questionable integrity by identifying the details of the event and getting your story straight.

Be careful who you talk to

Once you have been charged with a crime, you have likely spoken with a range of people—police, investigators and perhaps a judge—and they have all probably asked questions about the events leading up to your charges. That being said, it is imperative that you be careful who you speak to and what you say. You can easily incriminate yourself by answering deceptive questions, so it is best to stay quiet.

Get the help you need

Rather than speaking for yourself, it may be wise to hire an experienced legal advocate who can represent you and answer questions for you. Where you run the risk of incriminating yourself when you speak with law enforcement, a lawyer will help your case by representing you in the best possible light. Get the legal help you need when you are facing criminal charges.