Bad news, Law & Order junkies: Dick Wolf has been lying to you for decades. Big- and small-screen crime shows have featured many falsehoods about policing, legal procedures, and the rights of suspects. Some are mere technical inaccuracies while others are downright fabrications. Of particular note is the way crime shows depict the rights of suspects who get arrested. Here are the four biggest fibs from TV and the movies about getting arrested or being under arrest.
“I want my one phone call.” Sometimes it’s a throwaway line and other times it’s a tension-building plot device – the suspect gets only one call while they are in custody. In reality, suspects are not entitled to a phone call at all. New Jersey, like many states, has no codified rules or laws about whether or not you can make a call while in custody. That means you could be denied any kind of access to the outside world for as long as the police can legally hold you. On the flipside, some precincts provide suspects access to pay phones, which means you could make as many collect calls as the officers are willing to allow.
Your Miranda Rights. Actors playing police officers can often be heard giving suspects the Miranda warning, also known as reading them their Miranda rights. Audiences hear this so often that many real-life suspects have come to believe being read their rights is compulsory. This has led to the myth that if an officer fails to recite this warning then the arrest is invalid and the charges will be dropped. In the real world, the Miranda rights only apply (a) when the subject is actually under arrest; and (b) if a prosecutor wants to use the conversation against him in court. If the officer does not recite the Miranda warning, the suspect can still be interrogated but the anything the suspect states will be inadmissible as evidence at trial.
Entering a Home Without a Warrant. No warrant, no entry. That’s how Hollywood would have you believe it goes. The truth is that there are a lot of situations in which an officer can enter your home without a warrant. These are known as exigent circumstances. Some examples include if officers believe you are about to destroy evidence of crime, if they suspect a person is about to be harmed, or if they think a suspect may be attempting to flee. The legality depends heavily on a lot of factors, including the gravity of the situation, how likely the suspect is to escape the premises, and whether or not there was sufficient probable cause for an arrest in the first place.
Silence is Obstruction. If Ice-T asks you a question you’d better answer him. Seriously, how often do you get to talk to Ice-T? If a real cop asks you a question, answering is not compulsory. All citizens are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which states that no one is required to answer a question that may incriminate them. While Officer Fin Tutuola (Ice-T’s character on SVU) often threatens to charge people with obstruction of justice for “keeping their yap shut,” your Miranda rights clearly state you have the right to remain silent. Obstruction of justice only applies in circumstances such as destroying evidence, bribing or intimidating a witness, or evading a subpoena.
Getting arrested is a stressful and frightening scenario. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a criminal offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney right away. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm are skilled criminal defense attorneys who can help you understand your rights and minimize the consequences. Email the Rosenblum Law Firm or call 888-979-7551 today for a free consultation about your case.