There are many misconceptions people have about criminal cases; unless you have been charged with a crime in the past, you likely have a few misconceptions of your own.
Here are a few of the most common:
1. “If the police are investigating me for a crime, they have to tell me the truth about the investigation.”
Police and other law enforcement officials do not have to explain any details regarding an investigation; in fact, under the law they are allowed to lie. This is a common tactic used by police to get individuals who are suspected of a crime to admit to details which could potentially be incriminating.
2. “I’m innocent, so there’s no harm in speaking to the police.”
This is absolutely not true, and in fact could work to your detriment. It is never a good idea to speak to police without the presence of your attorney. Although they will often act as though they are your allies, police are only working to get you to “give up” information which will give them cause to arrest you or charge you with a crime. Innocent individuals are arrested every day for crimes they did not commit!
3. “The police were investigating me for a crime, but I haven’t heard from them in a few months. I guess they just forgot about me.”
You can rest assured that police do not “forget” about potential suspects when a crime has been committed. When someone who is being investigated for a criminal offense does not hear from police for a period of time, it does not mean they are no longer being investigated. Police may be checking out other leads, analyzing evidence, or even performing surveillance a suspect is not aware of.
4. “Any crime can be expunged from my criminal record if it happened long enough ago.”
How long ago an individual allegedly committed a crime makes no difference; in the U.S., only a judge may grant an expungement, and the laws governing the process vary by state. There are certain conditions that must be met in order to be eligible for expungement. In addition, a conviction for certain offenses may make an individual ineligible for expungement, including murder, rape, and other more serious charges. An expungement is most often granted to an individual who committed a single offense that would not be considered heinous or particularly serious, a “second chance” of sorts.
5. “Hiring an attorney will make me look guilty.”
Anyone who is under investigation by the police is likely to be considered guilty; otherwise, they would not be under investigation. If you have been arrested, police believe you are guilty. Unfortunately, the general public often perceives those who hire a lawyer as guilty, thinking they must have something to hide. The fact is hiring an attorney makes you look smart in the eyes of the law. The old saying “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client” is true. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is critical if you want to protect yourself from a possible conviction and criminal penalties.
6. “If the police want to speak to me about a crime, I have to talk to them.”
Absolutely not true – in fact, you should NOT speak to police and have a constitutional right to remain silent. By speaking to police, you may confess to a crime that you did or did not commit. Police have a funny way of pulling information out of people to suit their own needs, information which may be self-incriminating. Use your Fifth Amendment right, and never speak to police without the presence of your attorney.
7. “There’s no difference between a public defender and hiring a private attorney.”
While public defenders may be effective, there are limitations. For example, public defenders typically carry an enormous case load, which means they may be unable to dedicate sufficient time to your case. Additionally, someone charged with a crime must work with a public defender who is appointed to his or her case, unlike working with a private attorney of his or her own choosing. While a public defender is a licensed attorney just as a private attorney is, few can devote the time and personal attention essential to secure the best outcome in a client’s case.
8. “The person who reported me to the police doesn’t want to press charges, so the police will drop it.”
Not necessarily. When a person decides to drop charges, it does not mean they will be dropped. There are instances in which an alleged “victim” and suspect may work in conjunction to commit a crime. Police do not waver back and forth depending on whether an alleged victim decides not to press charges. Regardless of whether the individual who reported you changes his or her mind and decides not to press charges, if the crime can be proven, the case will be submitted to prosecutors. Many people who report a crime become frightened or intimidated, causing them to re-think their decision. This does not mean police will forget about a crime which may or may not have been committed.
9. “There’s no reason to hire an attorney until I’m actually charged with a crime.”
This is perhaps the biggest misconception of all! The BEST time to hire an attorney is as soon as you realize you are under investigation, or have been arrested. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer in the early stages can often result in charges not being filed. In addition, your attorney will have ample time to investigate your case before it goes to trial as well as an opportunity to begin developing a comprehensive and effective defense strategy. Contacting a lawyer only once you have been charged leaves little time for thorough preparation and investigation.
10. “The police can’t search anything of mine unless they have a warrant.”
While there are instances in which police must have a warrant to search your person, vehicle, or home/property, there are also cases in which they may legally perform a search without a warrant. For instance, police may search your car or home if an illegal drug or alcohol is in plain view, or if they smell marijuana or an illegal substance. In a situation involving a traffic infraction, an individual who is pulled over for suspicion of DUI or other infraction may be susceptible to a search of his or her vehicle for nearly any reason; a warrant is not usually required. Additionally, if you are arrested in your vehicle or home, police may perform what is commonly known as a “Wingspan” search. This simply means that officers may search to make certain there are no threats present such as individuals who pose a threat or weapons.
When it comes to crime in Michigan, there are many misconceptions. The only way to ensure positive results is to consult with an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney who can answer all of your questions and address any misconceptions you may have regarding the criminal justice process.