When it comes to the law, there is perhaps no other area that is as widely misunderstood, misrepresented, and mythologized in popular culture quite like criminal law. Unfortunately, the popular depiction of police procedures, trials, and other facets of the criminal justice process have given rise to persistent legal misconceptions. While many of these popular misconceptions are benign, some are far from it. If relied upon, these myths can significantly damage your ability to protect yourself and your rights.
As with any discussion of legal issues, you need to consult a criminal defense lawyer if you ever need guidance regarding criminal law. A good understanding of basic legal concepts will always benefit you, but applying the concepts to your situation and individual needs is something you can only do if you receive guidance from a criminal defense attorney.
Misconception #1: You Have to Talk to the Police
If you choose to make a statement to the police or answer their questions, you have to be honest and cannot lie or mislead them, lest you be prosecuted for obstruction or similar crimes. However, refusing to answer questions or refusing to cooperate with an investigation is not the same as lying or misleading a criminal investigation, and does not rise to the level of obstruction. As a rule, you are under no legal obligation to answer the questions asked to you by police or prosecutors, nor must you ever talk to the police if they want to talk to you.
All states have mandatory reporting laws that require some people (such as teachers, childcare providers, and medical professionals) to report suspected instances of child abuse or maltreatment to police or state officials. If you are obligated to report such suspected abuse and fail to do so, you can be charged with a crime. Furthermore, some states, such as Ohio, have laws that require you to report crimes.
Misconception #2: You Have the Right to a Phone Call
In general, if you are arrested, you have no recognized constitutional right to make a phone call. While the police are obligated to take certain actions, allowing you a phone call is not always one of them. However, in Ohio, we do have laws that specifically grant an arrestee the right to make a phone call, or at least the right to communicate with counsel or friends following a criminal arrest. In other states, procedures or rules adopted by county or municipal law enforcement agencies may afford arrestees the opportunity to make phone calls, even if there are no statewide laws that require them to do so.
Misconception #3: Cases Always Go to Trial
Criminal trials are dramatic, engaging, and incredibly popular subjects both for entertainment and news purposes. However, the trials that take place in the public eye and in popular entertainment can give the impression that most, if not all, criminal cases go to trial, and that all trials are long and complicated affairs.
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargain agreements between the prosecution and defense. The small number of cases that actually do make it to trial represent only a fraction of the total number of cases going on at any one time. Of those, only a fraction ever receive any significant media or popular attention.
In the End
If you rely on the popular depiction of the law and the criminal justice system, you may be at an even greater disadvantage. Knowing your rights and obligations prior to making any decisions (or any potentially incriminating statements) is always in your best interests. Therefore, if faced with a situation in Ohio criminal law, always consult a criminal defense attorney or criminal law firm.