Five Criminal Justice Myths You Should Know

Most people don’t expect to get arrested. When it happens, a range of emotions can hit you, from anger, to disbelief, to pure panic. But after the initial shock wears off, you’ll start to think about the best way to protect yourself. In trying to figure out how to react to your new reality, you probably won’t be relying on direct experience (unless you’re used to getting arrested all the time!). Instead, you’ll rely on what you consider common knowledge of how the criminal justice system works. But be careful, because many of the “truths” about how the system works are in fact nothing but myths. Here’s five “Criminal Justice Myths” that you should stop believing in:

 1. If the Officer doesn’t read my Miranda Rights, my case will get dismissed.

“Mirands Warnings” are a list of rights that you’ve heard on television a million times: the right to remain silent, the right to talk to an attorney, and the right to know that anything you say can and will be used against you in Court. I’m sure you have a favorite Miranda scene in a Movie. Mine is from the “Dragnet” remake with Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd.

But in real life, Miranda warnings only have to be read after you’ve been arrested. If an officer just walks up to you in a park, starts talking to you, and gets you to admit to a crime, that’s perfectly fine! No Miranda Warnings needed.

If you are arrested, officers have to “Mirandize” you before asking you questions. If they don’t, then any answers you give will be inadmissible in Court. But don’t celebrate yet! Anything you said or did before your arrest, and any evidence the officers find that shows you are guilty, is still admissible and can be used against you. If your confession was the only evidence they had, you’re in luck. Otherwise, you’ll still have to roll up your sleeves and fight the case.

2.  Police Officers Aren’t Allowed to Lie.

Wrong! To get a tip, lead, or confession, police officers are allowed to mislead you and outright lie to you. In fact, lying to a suspect is part of most officers’ official training. Officers are instructed to work hard to create a bond with the suspect, and will often lie about their own lives to create a sense of shared history. Officers will also lie about existing evidence, co-defendant confessions, and victim statements, all in an effort to compel the suspect to talk about his involvement in the crime.

If you are “tricked” by an officer into a confession or into an inappropriate online chat with a pretend child (you know, like in that infamous television show “to catch a predator”), then the joke’s on you. Arguing that the officer lied to you will never be a good defense. Consider yourself warned!

3.  An Innocent Person Would Never Plead Guilty to Something She Didn’t Do!

Sadly, sometimes innocent people plead guilty. You might be thinking, if someone falsely accused me of a crime, I’d never plead guilty. But what if you were facing life in prison if convicted and you’d been offered a sweetheart deal, like a short probation?

The criminal justice system here in the US is one of the greatest in the world, but it is by no means perfect. If you have been accused of a crime that you did not commit, you very well can be arrested, have to pay money to get out of jail, pay money to hire an attorney, you’ll have to go to court on a monthly basis, while being monitored on ancillary conditions of bond (restricting your travel, work, and lifestyle), you may even have to go to trial – and you CAN be convicted by a jury of your peers for something you did not do. And even worse – let’s say you are acquitted, you will not see a dime or an apology from the State of Texas.   Many times innocent people will plea to an offense just to avoid the possibility of a worse outcome.

4.  I’ll Have a Clean Record Once My Case is Dismissed.

Most Criminal Records include the arrest and disposition of each offense. If your case is dismissed, the record of your arrest and the fact that your case was dismissed will still exist.

To really wipe your record clean, you must file a separate civil action called an “expunction” in the county where your case was set. If your case was not expunged, it will remain on your record as an arrest and dismissal. Even if your case was dismissed, it has to be dismissed for the “right” reasons to be eligible.

If you are unsure whether your record can be cleared of a particular arrest, just talk with an attorney experienced with such matters.

5.  People Charged with the Same Crime should get the Same Time.

Not in Texas! Courts here have broad discretion in sentencing people to jail or putting them on probation. The more serious the crime, the more discretion a Court has. On a First Degree Felony like Murder, your sentence could be anywhere from 5 to 99 years in prison, or probation (if you don’t have any prior felony convictions).

Plus, each Judge has his or her pet peeves. Some hate theft cases, other sex cases, others intoxicated manslaughter cases. One judge might slam a defendant for 18 years for an intoxicated manslaughter case, while another might put the same person on probation.

Finally, every case is unique — there’s no way that your case is the same as your buddy’s case, even if you’re both charged for the same thing.

The key to all this is find a local attorney you can trust. The effective practice of law is more than just knowing the Code of Criminal Procedure. It’s about understanding the personalities and politics of the judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers in the county where you get arrested and charged.