5 Common Myths and Misconceptions about the Justice System

1) One Phone Call: While it is true that many times, jurisdictions will allow someone who has been arrested to try to call someone (like a family member or lawyer) to help them out, this is not a Constitutionally protected right. There are no rights as to when the phone call must occur, or even if it must occur at all. At the other end of the spectrum, some jurisdictions will allow inmates to make an unlimited number of phone calls to contact friends and family while they’re in custody.

2) Police Have to Tell you they are Police if you ask them: No one quite knows where this myth came from, and it flies in the face of logic. Think of all the great tv shows that featured undercover cops… this rule would put undercover and sting operations completely out of business. All anyone would ever have to do, before committing a crime in front of someone else, is ask: Are you a police officer? Undercover officers have a huge amount of latitude and discretion while they are undercover in order to be successful. Don’t believe this myth.

3) If a jury convicts you, you can appeal and get off: Appeals courts will only review cases where the defendant alleges his rights under the Constitution of the U.S. or a particular state were violated, or if there were significant lapses in procedure that resulted in an unfair trial. Appellate courts are not there to re-evaluate jury verdicts or reconsider evidence. In the interest of stability and trust in the justice system, appellate courts are extremely reluctant in overturning verdicts, particularly those deliberated by a jury.

4) Crime is increasing in America: This is patently untrue, at least on the whole. Crime rates have been declining for the last thirty years, despite feeling bombarded by information otherwise. Our ability to gather information on when violent crimes occur (through news, social media, and the like) makes it seem like crime is on the rise. Some major metropolitan areas have seen small rises in rime in recent years; but on average, humans are at the lowest likelihood of dying in a war or as the result of a crime in the history of mankind.

5) Double Jeopardy: You can’t be convicted again if you were acquitted of a crime. The 5th Amendment prohibits someone to be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, preventing the government from trying and retrying a case until they get it right. This is true with some massive exceptions. First – this only applies after a jury has either convicted or acquitted someone. Next, the state can charge someone with both the crime and the conspiracy to commit the crime – giving the state basically two bites at the apple. Finally, ‘separate sovereigns’ allow a defendant to be tried, convicted and sentences for the same thing in both federal and state courts. This was seen in Michael Vick’s cases on dogfighting: he was convicted once under state law, and again under federal law.

Contact Us