Defendants in criminal cases have almost unlimited questions when it comes to the court process and the charges filed against them. To a lot of defendants, it may be their first time ever interacting with the criminal justice system. If the only view of the court system someone has seen was on television or in a movie, reality will likely be very different. Because many people have only seen the legal system through the lens of a camera, the public typically has a fair share of misconceptions. Some that we encounter on a regular basis include:
- Police officers are required to read you your Miranda Rights immediately following arrest
Most people have heard the Miranda Rights being read during any police-centered TV show or movie. As soon as someone gets arrested, a police officer can be heard saying, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.” These depictions however, are largely inaccurate compared to real-life procedures. In fact, most people who are arrested do not ever hear those rights read to them. According to the United States Supreme Court, Miranda Rights only have to be read to subjects in police custody prior to an interrogation. Should an officer fail to read a subject their Miranda Rights, the statements made during questioning would likely be inadmissible during trial, but still may be considered for pretrial issues.
- Victims can decide to drop charges against someone
While the State takes into consideration a victim’s account of an incident, it is ultimately up to the prosecution as to whether to pursue charges or not. Victims are free to make complaints, which could result in charges being filed by the city’s prosecutor’s office. Additionally, as much as a victim may wish to “drop charges” against a defendant, they are not their charges to drop. Once charges are filed, it is the decision of the prosecution on how to move forward.
- Eyewitnesses are reliable forms of evidence
Research has shown that human memory is extremely unreliable, especially regarding high-stress situations like an attack, a break-in, or even an auto accident. This poses a significant problem, since most crimes tend to be high-stress situations. Simply put, humans remember their own version of events. Each person watching an incident will see it from their perspective, and therefore will remember it differently. This, naturally, makes proving the reliability of an eyewitness very difficult, since one person’s recollection of a particular event may differ from someone else’s recollection of the same event.
- A guilty plea is proof of guilt
Since there is such a high volume of criminal cases that come through municipal and county courts, attorneys and judges utilize the “plea bargaining” process. This is where defendants will plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for usually less-severe punishments than they would receive if they went to trial. This does not, however, equate to a confession or prove guilt. It simply means that a defendant is giving up their right to have a trial, usually in exchange for a reduced sentence.
- You can easily get your charge(s) dismissed
Once charges are filed against you, it is usually not as easy as one would think to get the charges completely dismissed. Additionally, prosecutors likely will not look at your character when determining whether to file charges or not. Regardless if you are innocent or guilty, once charges are filed, you have to go through the court process to have your case resolved.
- Your attorney is in constant communication with the prosecutor regarding your case
A typical misdemeanor case can take anywhere from 3-6 months to resolve from the time charges are filed, and felony charges can take even longer. During that time, defendants can have multiple pre-trial hearings, but there will also be a lot of dead time. Defense attorneys do not typically talk to the prosecutor during that dead time, and not a lot usually “happens” with your case between hearings. If you have an ongoing criminal case, rest assured that your attorney most likely is not neglecting your case, but gathering discovery, researching case law, and conducting other forms of research in order to prepare for your next hearing.
- Police must arrest you for you to be charged with a crime
While many criminal cases do start with an arrest, it is not necessary for an arrest to be made in order to file criminal charges. In felony cases, defendants are sometimes indicted, meaning the prosecutor went before a grand jury to determine if there was enough evidence to justify moving forward. You may also be served a summons or citation requiring you to appear in court on a certain day and time, rather than being formally arrested.
- Warrants can be resolved without turning yourself in
Unfortunately, once someone has an active warrant for their arrest, there are limited ways in which to resolve that warrant. Most times, warrants cannot be resolved without a turn-in. Different courts have varying procedures regarding warrant turn-ins; some require defendants to be turned in at the court, others require defendants to be turned in at the county Sheriff’s Department or local police department. Depending on the agency’s procedures, defendants may be able to immediately go in front of a judge for a bond to be set, or they may have to wait in jail until a judge is available.
- Police and prosecutors are wasting their time going after you when there are other more serious offenders out there
Being charged with something most people see as minor can be frustrating, especially when you think about the more serious criminals and violent offenders who have not yet been caught. But the presence of violent offenders existing in society does not negate the need to prosecute misdemeanor and non-violent offenders.
- Going to trial is always the best option
Defendants sometimes think that going to trial would be better than accepting a plea deal. Trials, however, can be extremely costly to defendants when considering attorney fees, expert fees, and court costs. Additionally, there is no way to predetermine how a jury will react to certain evidence, and they may be coming into the picture with misconceptions of their own that will influence the way they view evidence. It is important to discuss all your options with your attorney before making the decision to proceed to trial.
People who only have interacted with the criminal justice system through a television show or movie typically have expectations before walking into a courtroom that are not met. Unfortunately, those portrayals are dramatized and often times not accurate. Should you have any further questions regarding criminal proceedings, please feel free to visit our website or contact our office at (330) 718-9499!