First, this is not a situation I or anyone I know of is in. It's a hypothetical, and an attempt to clarify common legal advice in the USA like "never talk to the police without a lawyer."

Let's say Steve is the victim of an attempted mugging. The mugger, Meany McRobberface, does a bad job handling his weapon (gun, knife, fists, take your pick) and Steve manages to get the upper hand, and restrain McRobberface until police arrive. The officers arrive to see Steve using force against his would-be assailant, and detain both men, formally arresting the aspiring mugger.

The police ask Steve to come in for questioning. However events happened, he is "clearly" the victim, and was responding in self-defense to an attempted mugging, possibly involving an armed assailant. Does Steve still need to lawyer up as soon as he's asked to come in? What about questions he's asked on the scene, should he refuse to answer until he can speak to a lawyer then? In case the answer depends strongly on the state, let's look at California and New York State.

  • "he is "clearly" the victim" to an omniscient reader of your question. To someone who just arrived on the scene, he's the one using force on someone and may even have a weapon on them having disarmed the attacker. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 12:43
  • @Studoku That's why it's in quotes :) Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 0:22

1 Answer 1


Whether any person, provided that they are in full legal capacity (not a minor, not incapacitated etc.), needs a lawyer, is to be decided by that person. Even criminal defendants can be self-represented if they've got the balls for it — the law does not impose a requirement to have a lawyer when the person does not want it.

Considerations as to whether to have a lawyer are very fact-specific and person-specific.

Assuming that Steve is not literate in law, it would probably be good idea for him to get a lawyer before answering any questions. The facts are such that it is not totally impossible that he may be charged, especially if he inadvertently says something not in his favor, or otherwise says something favorable to McRobberface.

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