Fact vs. Fiction: 4 Criminal Justice Myths You Learned from TV

judge with paperwork

Order in the court! Crime dramas have been a popular mainstay of the silver screen since the early 1930s. Unlike traditional mystery stories, these procedurals primarily focus on law enforcement divisions investigating watered-down whodunits in order to arrest the perpetrator-of-the-week. Many of these shows aim for realism by attempting to accurately portray forensic investigations, interrogations, and even autopsies. However, quite frankly, the true day-to-day lives of investigators just isn’t that entertaining to the casual at-home viewer. For this reason, writers and directors are willing to take great creative liberties to produce a series that wins the ratings race.

Although these inaccuracies and fabrications makes a story more interesting, they also create dangerous misconceptions about the criminal justice system. If you’re a defendant, you can’t use NCIS or Law & Order as your only frame of reference. If you aren’t careful, you may make a mistake that jeopardizes your entire case.

To set the record straight, the attorney at The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller has compiled a list of criminal justice myths you likely learned from your favorite police procedurals.

Myth #1: Fingerprint Evidence is Foolproof

In the world of television, a police officer can use fingerprinting techniques or equipment to identify prints and arrest a criminal. In the real world, latent prints are often incomplete and smudged, leading examiners to have a significant error rate.

Myth #2: You Only Get One Phone Call

This myth is commonly perpetuated by dramatic television characters. How often have you watched a TV cop tell a resigned detainee that they better make their one phone call count? 

So, if you’re been arrested, who are you going to call?

  • Your family?
  • Your lawyer?
  • Your neighbor?
  • Your rich best friend?

The right answer is that you can call anyone you want. A detainee isn’t limited to just one phone call. However, it’s important that you don’t abuse this privilege. Law enforcement officials are usually fairly generous so long as you explain why you need to make a certain call.

Myth #3: DNA Is the Ultimate Problem Solver

An overplayed plot device in most procedurals is when a detective or forensics team discovers a suspicious nail clipping or strand of hair that they collect for DNA testing. Within a few short minutes, that little piece of evidence completely solves the case. While it’s true that DNA testing has led to both convictions and exonerations, it isn’t the quick and easy process Hollywood makes it out to be. In reality, finding a clean DNA sample is incredibly rare, and test results can take weeks or even months.

Myth #4: Your Miranda Rights

As the investigation comes to a close, the plucky detective and her hardboiled partner arrest the perpetrator with a snappy one-liner and a speedy rendition of the Miranda rights. In reality, cops don’t necessarily have to recite the Miranda rights right when they slap the handcuffs on a suspect. For instance, a law enforcement official may only read someone their rights if they’re going to be subjected to questioning. This way the detainee can request to have an attorney present. In this situation, the police have to stop questioning the subject until a lawyer is retained. Regardless, you don’t want to run your mouth and give them anything to work with, either.

Arrested for a Crime? Schedule a Consultation

If you’re facing criminal charges, contact The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller. Our attorney has a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system and the various protocols associated with an investigation. By evaluating your defense options, we can develop an effective legal strategy that represents your best interests both in and out of court.

Contact The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller at (757) 267-4949 to schedule a free consultation.

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