When it comes to criminal law, the general population of this country is sorely confused.
The aspects of the criminal justice system that are portrayed on television are often very narrow, overly dramatized, and inaccurate.
However, because this genre of entertainment has been so popular for so long, people tend to think of themselves as more knowledgeable than they are. Myths about criminal law abound.
6 Top Common Criminal Law Myths
Here are six of the top most common criminal law myths about the criminal justice system:
Attorney-client privilege is absolute.
This is not the case at all. The communication you have with your criminal defense attorney is protected, but only so far.
There are many exceptions to this rule as well as requirements for the rule to apply. A judge can find out what you told your attorney for many different reasons, and it happens all the time.
Police officers must read you your rights.
One of the most commonly held beliefs is that police have to read you your Miranda rights whenever they talk to you. Otherwise, anything you say will be thrown out in court.
This is highly inaccurate. The only time police have to advise you of your rights is after they take you into custody and you are not free to leave.
However, any other conversation – even an interview at the police station – can be admissible in court and does not require police to warn you of your rights.
If police lie to you, you can’t be convicted.
Police officers are only sworn to tell the truth when they are testifying in court. When they are conducting investigations, they can and often do lie to suspects.
The Supreme Court has upheld the government’s right to use deception when conducting an investigation time and again. Furthermore, although you don’t have to incriminate yourself, if you lie to the police it is considered a crime.
You have to answer police questions.
So many times in legal procedural shows, suspects engage in conversations with police officers willingly. Of course, a TV show wouldn’t be very interesting if every perpetrator invoked his or her right to remain silent.
However, that is precisely what every criminal defense attorney would advise for their clients. To lie to police is considered a crime. Nonetheless, refusing to answer a question or cooperate with an investigation is your constitutional right and is not considered obstruction of justice.
This includes if you are taken into custody. Other than a couple of specific situations, you are not legally obligated ever to talk to a police officer or prosecutor. No matter what an officer tells you, refusing to answer questions or cooperate with an investigation cannot be taken as evidence of your guilt.
However, in Michigan, we have “stop and identify” laws which allow police officers to ask for your identification if you are pulled over in a traffic stop and to ask you for your name, age, and address.
Police deception is entrapment.
Many people think entrapment is when police lie to you or try to trick you. Although entrapment can be used as a legal defense, it isn’t often used because the legal definition is very narrow and difficult to prove.
If you can prove it, however, you can’t be convicted of a crime. But you have to prove that police went to great lengths to get you to commit a crime you wouldn’t have committed otherwise.
If you merely committed a crime in the presence of someone you didn’t know was a police officer, that’s not entrapment. Police can:
- Ask you to commit a crime
- Help you commit a crime (in an undercover capacity)
- Watch you commit a crime or fail to stop you
- Or tell you something is a crime all without it being considered entrapment.
Evidence obtained without a search warrant is inadmissible.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore, the state must show probable cause to search your property. This often this means it must obtain a written search warrant first.
However, there are several exceptions to this amendment and police know them well.
- Plain View Searches – A police officer is free to seize any illegal evidence they come across in their daily routine. If an officer comes to your door and sees illegal drugs on your table, he can seize them and use them as evidence against you.
- Automobile Searches – An officer is free to search your vehicle during a traffic stop if he has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime.
- Terry Stops – These are “stop and frisk” searches if police have a reasonable suspicion that you are engaging in illegal activity. They can stop you and frisk your clothing for anything illegal.
Searches Following Arrest
- Consent To Search: Any time you grant police permission to search any private property, it voids the requirements of a warrant search. In addition, anything they find in their search can be used against you.
The Most Dangerous Criminal Law Myth
The most dangerous myth – above all – is the one that says you know what you’re doing and how to protect yourself and your constitutional rights.
Criminal law can be confusing and counter-intuitive. You should not attempt to deal with police on your own. You also should not use this guide to make yourself believe you can go it alone.
Contact Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney David J. Kramer
Always call an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you protect your rights before it’s too late. Reach out today!