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Common Myths About the Criminal Justice System

December 27, 2019

If you have never been arrested before, then your knowledge of the criminal justice system inevitably comes from other sources. You may have known other people who have been arrested and charged with a crime, or you may have followed certain cases in the news. Alternatively, your idea of the justice system may be heavily influenced by movies or television. If you’re like most people, then many of the things you “know” about the criminal justice system may be complete myths. These are some common misconceptions: 

You get one phone call after your arrest. 

We’ve all seen it happen in the movies: A person is arrested and told they only get one phone call. They agonize over who to call, finally dial the number, and—surprise!—the other person doesn’t answer. While this is a suitably dramatic situation for fiction, it doesn’t reflect the real world. In many states—including Arizona—the police are not required to allow you to make any phone calls at all after your arrest. However, if the police do permit you to use the phone to contact somebody, you will likely be permitted to make more than one call.  

The police must read you your rights. 

When the police take a criminal suspect into custody, they must tell them what their rights are. Broadly, this means that they must tell you that you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney, and that anything you say may be used against you in court. However, the police are not required to read you your rights during every single interaction with you, and the information you provide to them in other situations can still be used against you. Thus, you should be cautious when having a conversation with police under any circumstances. 

An undercover police officer cannot lie to you about their identity. 

If you ask an undercover police officer if they are, in fact, a police officer, don’t they have to tell you who they are? In fact, a police officer is legally permitted to lie to you about their identity, and many other things. An officer cannot threaten you, or make false promises; otherwise, they can stretch the truth in order to obtain evidence. In other words, you cannot depend on the assumption that a police officer is being truthful with you during your interactions. Keep this in mind whenever you are speaking with an officer. 

Evidence can only be used if the police have a search warrant. 

The police must obtain a search warrant in order to search your home, and they can only obtain a warrant if they have “probable cause” to believe that you have committed a criminal action. However, there are many circumstances in which police can use evidence that they have obtained without first obtaining a warrant. For example, if an officer knocks on your door, you answer, and the officer can view clear evidence of a crime from where they are standing, then they can arrest you without first going and getting a warrant. 

If you’re arrested, it means you will have to stand trial. 

In fact, most cases never go to trial. In 2018, for instance, only 2 percent of all defendants in federal criminal cases went to trial. Most defendants either plead guilty or have their cases dismissed. (While civil cases are often settled out of court, criminal cases must end in either conviction or dismissal.) While most people assume that an individual who is arrested will inevitably end up making their case in court, the overwhelming majority of people who are arrested will never stand in front of a judge and jury. 

You don’t need an attorney for minor offenses. 

Even seemingly minor offenses can cause major problems for you. Being convicted of a crime, however serious, can have lasting repercussions. It can hurt your ability to get a job, and it can make it difficult for you to get a loan. Your reputation may be damaged for a long time. Thus, it’s imperative that you seek out qualified legal representation as soon as possible after your arrest. Having an experienced and knowledgeable attorney by your side is essential if you want to protect yourself and your rights.

When you’re in need of an attorney in the Tucson area, it’s time to get in touch with Janet Altschuler. Ms. Altschuler has more than 20 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney, and she is ready to defend you and your rights. Whatever your case involves, she will fight hard to win a favorable outcome for you. If you have any questions, you can reach her office today by calling (520) 247-1789.