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Criminal Law Common Misconceptions


With television shows like Law & Order and CSI, the entire nation now knows everything that there is to know about criminal law. Right?


Shows such as these, as well as some music artists on the radio, seem to enjoy spreading their criminal law knowledge to the public. Interestingly enough, the information isn't quite accurate, and we owe it to you to straighten things out. There are many misconceptions floating around out there, and I'd like to address a few.

First. Society today has taken the meaning of Miranda warnings and turned it into "If the police don't read me my rights, my case should be dismissed." This is a false mischaracterization of your Miranda rights. The United States Supreme Court decided in Miranda that it was a constitutional right for any person in custody to be made known of his/her rights before being interrogated. This meaning that before officers are allowed to question criminal suspects, they must make clear the suspects constitutional options before the officers can use any of the statements to incriminate the suspect in court. This does NOT mean that if Miranda warnings are not given the entire case falls apart. Simply, whatever a criminal suspect says in response to an officer's questioning cannot be used against him. But, that information gained can still be acted upon. Because of the 5th and 6th amendments, a Miranda warning is a procedural rule crafted by the Supreme Court to protect the constitution, the judicial process, and, of course, the criminal suspect.

Second. There seems to be confusion regarding "pressing charges." When a call is made to police or information is given to the State, you no longer call the shots in the criminal matter. Simply put, if a crime has occurred, the State has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute regardless of your regretful confessions. Some District Attorney's offices here in Texas have what is known as a "no drop policy." That means that if a crime has indeed occurred, the case will not be dismissed. Period. Despite how intensely the victim wishes the case would disappear. All in all, it is easy to report a crime, but it is not as easy to take it back.

Third. Thanks to the one and only Jay-Z. He in fact had more than just 99 problems. The 4th amendment does protect individuals from unreasonable search and seizure, but police officers do not ALWAYS need a warrant to search your belongings. Society seems to fall in line with Jay-Z and think officers "gon need a warrant for that." But the truth of the matter is that there are other opportunities available to officers in order to conduct a search. An obvious exception to the warrant requirement is when consent is given. Although that consent must be voluntary. Another exception to the warrant requirement is exigent circumstances. These include times such as hot pursuit of a suspect, imminent destruction of evidence, emergencies to eliminate harm, and incident to arrest in order to ensure safety. And further, officers do not need a warrant to search a vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that inside the vehicle is contraband or evidence to a crime. Probable cause exists when reasonably trustworthy facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the officer on scene would lead a man of reasonable prudence to believe that the instrumentality of a crime or evidence of a crime will be found. So in Jay-Z's situation, if the appropriate facts had been available to the officer suggesting evidence to a crime was present, the officer would have been allowed to search the vehicle. Without a warrant.

Criminal law is constantly in the media whether via news or entertainment. But, because a criminal charge is a very serious matter, it's important to know what is reality and what is simply a common misconception.