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Common Misconceptions Regarding Criminal Defense Cases

Interviewer: What would you say are some of the top misconceptions that people have about being arrested for a crime when they speak to you about their case?

Brian Geno: People often think that because it’s their first offense, that defense of that case will be no big deal. A lot of times, it seems like they expect me, the attorney, to take it casually, because after all, it’s their first time. Another version of that same misconception is when a person, thinking it will be easy because it their first time, expects that I will not have much to do in the case, relying solely on that first scenario. Really, that is a huge misconception, because most crimes are the person’s first offense, and the courts, the prosecutors consider it just as serious. They’ll put people in jail for it. If it’s a second offense, they punish that person harder, but a common man is not going to like what the system does to first offenders. So don’t expect that to be some nice big benefit. You’re not going to like what they do for the first offender. You’re, even more so, not going to like what they do for the second offender.

People Do Not Have to be Read Their Rights Except Under Certain Circumstances

Another common misconception is that you have to be read your rights. People don’t have to be read their rights except under certain circumstances.

Also, another common misconception is that the police can’t do a search if you say you don’t want them to. I think that TV makes people think that. They’ll say “I didn’t consent to have my car searched, and they did it anyway.” They believe it’s a huge loophole, and guarantees a sure fire defense. But it only works under certain circumstances. So, here is a general primer on the subject of searches during traffic stops (typically done without a search warrant). First, in the absence of a valid arrest, the police have no business conducting a search of your vehicle while giving you a summons for a traffic violation unless there is independent probable cause that the vehicle contains contraband or tools, evidence or fruits of a crime. Second, if an arrest is made, the police may search the vehicle but only if the defendant is within reach of the vehicle or there is good reason to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense arrested for. Third, there is no reason for a pat down unless there is articulable suspicion that the person is armed. Fourth, An officer can ask passengers of cars to get out of the car. With reasonable suspicion or probable cause, the officer can search the belongings of the passenger and the vehicle compartment where he was seated. Fifth, if someone honestly consents to a search, it will be considered a valid search. Sixth, evidence in plain sight of an officer (or plain feel) is not considered improperly obtained.

Police May Lie to You during the Course of an Investigation.

Another common misconception is that the police are going to be responsible for lying to you when they question you. If the police say that they’ve got you on camera and they’re trying to get you to fess up to things, don’t think that they have to be telling the truth, because they don’t. Or they’ll say, “If you will confess to us everything you did, we will let you go.” What the person thinks the police mean is “We won’t charge you if you confess.” In fact the police will charge them. They just don’t make them go to jail right then.

Those are all common misconceptions, which I wish people wouldn’t make. People should still use their rights. That is, they should not talk to police. They should not consent to searches. They should not give things to the police, like give them things in their car, in their pockets, in their wallet. Those are things that are part of your rights; things you have the right to do, and not do. However people continue to give those rights up. We actually have videos on our website about not talking to police to help emphasize the point. We’ve had clients who get off because they don’t talk to police. We give people business cards from my office that explain their rights, that they can give to the cops when they are stopped that say they’re asserting their right not to speak or be searched, all because it’s that important. It’s a huge deal.