When people come into our offices, they have a lot of misconceptions about how the law works. For many people, this is the first time they’ve ever been in trouble with the law – or had family who has come in contact with police. So they’re scared, and worried, and believe that what they’ve seen in movies and on the television accurately depicts how criminal law operates in the real world.
Let’s talk about some of the common myths about criminal law.
- My case is going to trial.
Many people assume that their case is going to trial – meaning a trial with 12 members of a jury sitting in a box and deciding someone’s fate. First, while I am prepared to take a case to trial if need be, the sheer statistics in the United States indicate that approximately 95 percent of all cases do not go to trial. They are resolved by what lawyers like to call a non-jury disposition.
The vast majority are resolved by a plea bargain. Whether your case is going to end by a plea bargain (or felony diversion, drug diversion, or deferral agreement), it’s important that the attorney you hire prepares as if it’s going to trial.
- Police did not read me my rights. My case will be dismissed.
While it’s possible that a case may be dismissed because police failed to read rights, the vast majority of cases never are affected by a failure to read rights. That’s because the rights requirement – the requirement to inform someone of their rights under Arizona v. Miranda – is very limited in its application. It applies only to in custody interrogations. If you were in custody, but police did not interrogate you, then there was no requirement to read you your Miranda rights. If you were out-of-custody, and police asked you questions, then there was no requirement to read you your Miranda rights.
And even if a judge finds that your rights under Miranda were violated, the case would only be dismissed if that confession or those statements were the only or primary evidence that the police had of your guilt. If there was other evidence, police are free to use that evidence so long as it was not obtained illegally.
- My case will be resolved quickly
Many people assume a criminal case will be resolved in, at most, a couple of months. And while it’s true that plenty of misdemeanors and felonies can be resolved fairly quickly with outstanding results, if your case is headed to trial, then in many cases it will take at least a year, and perhaps two or more years for the case to be called for trial.
That’s because in North Carolina there is no statutory speedy trial requirement, which means that only the federal constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial applies in North Carolina.
- Police are there to help
When the police come to investigate a criminal matter, they are not there to help you. They are there, potentially, to arrest you, and they are in the process of trying to gather as much information as they can to convict you.
Falling into the trap of believing that police are there to help you is a sure way to begin digging a hole that leads to a criminal conviction.
- The police officer promised that if I cooperated, I would not face charges. Or that he would talk to the prosecutor
You may have had an interview with a police officer prior to being arrested or prior to being charged. And during that interview, the police officer may have urged you to talk, telling you that if you cooperated it would “go easier in you.”
In general, it never makes sense to talk to police without a lawyer present. That’s because police do not necessarily need to tell you the truth, or honor promises to “talk to the judge” or “put a good word in with the DA.” Anything you say during that interview will be used against you. There are no secrets kept.
Always have a lawyer when talking to police.
- I can have a conviction expunged.
North Carolina has very restrictive expungement laws. If you’re convicted after the age of 18 of a felony or most misdemeanors, the law prohibits expungements. Expungements are available for people under the age of 18, or for cases in which the matter was “voluntarily dismissed” (VD) or where the case is dismissed at the close of State’s evidence, or where the judge or jury finds the defendant not guilty.
But under North Carolina law, a person is only entitled to one expungement in his or her life.
- I can handle this case myself, without hiring a lawyer.
Sometimes people come into our offices – maybe at the start of an investigation – for an initial free consultation. After discussing some aspects of their case, they believe that it would be more cost effective (e.g., cheaper) to “go it alone” and not hire a lawyer.
The problem is that police and prosecutors are trained professionals. Even the smartest individual (defendant, suspect) has not had the legal training or experience required to defend themselves in a criminal matter.
Often these matters can be handled more inexpensively at the beginning of the matter. At a certain point, however, a person who has not hired a lawyer will be doing more harm – much more harm – to their case and their potential for a successful outcome.
- I’m going to jail. There is no hope.
If you have never been in trouble with the law before – except for speeding tickets, etc. – and you are accused of a non-violent felony or misdemeanor, then the chances of going to jail or prison are very small. North Carolina has a structured sentencing system that calculates someone’s sentencing range by:
- The person’s prior criminal history, and
- The class of the crime.
In certain cases, especially in cases where only a small amount of money has been alleged to have been stolen or where the person has been accused of felony possession (but not sale) of drugs, the person might be eligible for a diversion program. A diversion program is a program where the person completes community service (and possible drug treatment) over the course of the year, and earns a dismissal of the charges.
- The person’s prior criminal history, and
- There’s a Magic Key that will Solve My Case
Many clients, having watched a lot of television or movies about the law, come to our offices with the impression that there is a magic key that will suddenly make the whole criminal charge go away.
In fact, there is very rarely a magic key. Movies about crimes have magic keys, because that makes the plot exciting. But in the real world, a criminal case – and a criminal defense – involves a lot of hard work, and a lot of time, and is almost never resolved in a dramatic fashion.
- My friend got X result, I should also get that same result.
But sometimes folks come into my office expecting the same or similar results to friends or family members.
Every case is different. You should hire a smart, aggressive Raleigh criminal lawyer to help defend you in your matter.