Most people understand television gets things wrong a lot, but the more realistic a show looks the more likely it is to influence people’s perceptions about the world around them. And no genre seems to impact people’s perception of their reality quite like the police procedural, whether we’re talking about Law and Order, CSI, or any of the numerous dramas out there.
These shows are responsible for five problematic perceptions that can cause good people to make big mistakes when they’re in the crossfire of a criminal investigation, mistakes which can easily see them put behind bars.
#1) If you’re innocent, you should definitely cooperate with the police!
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, Mr. Smith, then you’ve got nothing to lose by talking to us.”
Wrong. If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got everything to lose by talking to the police. Have a qualified criminal lawyer present, even if you think you might just be a witness. The police are trying to build a case against someone. Make the wrong statement at the wrong time, and someone could be you. Remember, the police don’t decide guilt or innocence. Juries do. And juries expect you to have a lawyer. Getting a lawyer is not a declaration of guilt. It’s a declaration which says you understand how our justice system works.
#2) Court cases are done in a day!
Court cases take an average of 14 months to complete. If you can’t post bail, either because you lack the resources or because you didn’t have a lawyer to ease the judge off something totally unrealistic at your bail hearing, you could easily spend all 14 of those months in jail, just as if you were guilty.
There’s not much a defense attorney can do about that except represent you well at your bail hearing and make sure those 14 months are spent well getting your case prepared and strengthened.
#3) It’s all about guilt or innocence!
No. It’s all about evidence. It’s about whether a case can be made for your guilt, and whether a case can be made for your innocence, and who has the stronger case.
Someone can make a case for your guilt even if you’re innocent. Someone can make a case for your innocence even if you’re guilty. If you’re tangling with our justice system right now this is one of the most important lessons you can possibly absorb.
#4) If someone confesses, they must have done it!
False confessions are exceedingly common. Police interrogation tactics are highly manipulative, and can even make you doubt yourself. You can find yourself boxed into admitting things you didn’t realize you were admitting, or saying what the police want to hear just to get a long and grueling interview over with.
Confessions don’t mean much. They are not definitive and they do not create an “open and shut” case.
#5) Detectives always turn over every stone to get to the TRUTH!
Detectives arrest a likely suspect they can build a decent case against. Television would like you to believe every single crime scene is processed down to the last strand of DNA. In reality, many crime scenes do not in fact receive the “CSI” treatment at all. Police do not have the time to interview every last potential witness. They’ve got dozens of other cases on their desks.
Police get to “good enough.” Good cops do the best they can with this and move on. Bad cops cut corners, ignore any evidence which doesn’t fit whomever they like for the crime and arrest whomever they think they can get away with arresting. The result can be the same in either case, and sometimes they get their arrests horribly, demonstrably wrong.
Ready to “Lawyer Up?”
Police dramas are really nothing more than a modern day fairy story. Some monster threatens the community. Police officers take the role of modern day knights, riding out to defeat the monster and restore order to the community.
Prosecutors and judges take the role of kings, affirming their choices. CSI guys, lab techs, and computer guys take the role of wizards, crying, “Enhance!” until a blurry photo resolves into a license plate.
Enjoy them for what they are, but don’t let them guide your life.Instead, contact us if you think you might be in trouble, the sooner the better. Don’t wait until you’re sitting in an interrogation room. Protect your freedom. Here in the real world, things get real messy, real fast.