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5 Misconceptions about the Criminal Justice System

1. The police are legally required to read suspects their Miranda Rights on arrest.

In every cop drama in every state in America, daily arrests occur as distressed suspects are shoved violently into cars, their faces awash with the cringing injustice of it all. As the buzz-cut, Schwartznegger-esque cop competently clicks the handcuffs into place, he reels off the famous line, “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. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” This is the prerequisite to a proper arrest, right? Without which the correct laws would not have been observed and therefore the arrest is null, right? Wrong.

The number of defendants in court, every day, who despite what evidence or witnessed is being produced, believe they have been handed a bullet-proof ‘technicality’ on a golden platter which absolves their responsibility to properly defend themselves to a jury. They have seen GI Joe and CSI Miami and The Wire… they know their rights.

They have in fact been served a huge injustice by TV programs that hugely exaggerate the notion of technicalities being a cause for a defendant to be declared free to go at all. It happens in none but an infinitesimal minority, and even if it did, it would not be due to a cop’s supposed temporary amnesia. If it were a legal requirement, cops would never, ever forget to say it. The fact is that a police person is only required to read a suspect their rights once in custodial interrogation, and not before this point. Find me a suspect who was not read their rights at that stage, and I’ll eat my gavel.

2. You Can Only be tried Once for the Same Crime

The common understanding is that if you are tried for a crime and not found guilty, you cannot be tried again unless further evidence is found. It is thought of as Double Jeopardy, as outlined by the Constitution in the 5th Amendment. However, many people don’t consider that there are many outcomes to a trial that don’t result in a conviction or acquittal, such as a hung jury or a mistrial. These trials end without a verdict, and even though the defendant may be free to go, the trial has effectively failed to come to any decisive verdict. Without a verdict, the prosecution is free to pursue the case as long as they so wish, and hold as many trials as they want, as long as they have the resources to do so.

No further evidence is required to hold these trials and whilst it is unusual to pursue a case beyond a handful of trials, a defendant may be summoned an indefinite number of times until they are either convicted, or acquitted.

3. You Cannot be Convicted if the Evidence is Circumstantial

Whilst it is almost impossible to prove guilt without direct or factual evidence, it does not mean a suspect can’t be convicted. The law states that if a suspect can be proved guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”, they can be convicted. The law draws no distinction between circumstantial evidence and direct evidence in terms of weight and importance. This means that there is direct supporting evidence, and circumstantial probative evidence, a crime can be convicted or acquitted “beyond reasonable doubt”.

4. Eyewitness Testimony Equals Legal Victory

Whilst a witness’s testimony to a crime might carry clout and strength, it is in no way a sure-fire way to get a conviction. It is a scientifically proven fact that no memory of any event is identical to another, in the same vein as the fact that no human is absolutely identical to another; not even an identical twin. Our experiences, varying talents, and of course observational priorities dictate that whilst two people might witness exactly the same event at the same time, their brains will remember different things. The angle at which they were standing could affect their independent verdict on what they think they saw, as could what they were looking at, at the time.

Criminal lawyers are more than aware of these facts, and if a witness states a ‘fact’ that is contradictory to the case they are making, they will find holes in their story by whatever means necessary. Criminal lawyers can confuse witnesses, cause them to make contradictory statements, or discredit them through suggested personal or lifestyle flaws.

Never make the assumption that because you have an eyewitness to support your case, you are home and dry.

5. Where there is Smoke, there is Fire

Whilst this might seem in every day life like a logical philosophy to hold upon deciding if a fact is true or not, it holds no water in the court of law. Each accusation must be treated with clinical precision, with no question of guilt entering the collective psyche of the jury until proven so. Across the country, jurors often forget this and, determined to draw a conclusion of sorts, will attempt to decide subjectively, based on personal feelings about a defendant or prosecutor. This holds no sway however, as without evidence beyond reasonable doubt, a defendant is always innocent until proven guilty.