Criminal Law Myths Perpetrated on Television in Washington D.C.
At Lotze Mosley, LLP, our criminal defense attorneys in Washington D.C. and Maryland know how popular television crimes shows are each season, and the overflow of replays that air before a new season can be recorded.
According to the Hollywood Reporter crime shows outnumber every other drama including family dramas and medical shows on broadcast networks and are among the most-watched series on TV.
While these shows are entertaining, they often overstate the facts related to criminal cases.
Here are the top five TV crime show myths that often blur the line between drama and reality.
Myth One: The Stage of the Case, From Investigation to Trial, Happens Quickly
Television shows unfold in 30 to 60 minutes, which means they must condense the timeline of everything from the investigation and trial to the jury deliberations and verdict.
In reality, the investigation of any criminal case can take weeks, months, or even years before producing any useful evidence.
Myth Two: Evidence is Everywhere, and It Will Tell the Whole Story
Evidence is certainly valuable during a criminal case, but it must exist to be collected.
Crime dramas often show a single piece of hair, or a perfect fingerprint being lifted from the scene, which will seal the case quickly and effectively.
The reality is, crime scenes can take days to photograph, process, and document, and even then, the evidence is often of poor quality once all the results are in.
Processing fingerprints and DNA can take weeks to produce any positive results — if they exist.
What is more, the databases the results run through only contain the DNA of known offenders. This is only helpful if the person who committed the crime has committed another crime before, and their DNA is on file for that reason.
Myth Three: Enhancing Evidence is Easy to Do
It is not uncommon for crime dramas to portray the enhancement of images or videos to get the details they need to put the bad guy away.
The reality is, closed caption video — from banks, gas stations, traffic cameras, or elsewhere — is typically not of high quality and is often not useful, even when it is enhanced.
There are many ways images, photos, or sound can be cleaned up to get the best outcome, but the result is only as good as the device it was recorded on. This also takes time and is not something that can happen quickly, as computer technicians are not always at the ready.
Myth Four: Investigators Can Navigate Crime Scenes with Ease
The television version of crime scene working conditions is always optimal. All you must do is clear the yellow police tape, and you can begin collecting evidence.
In reality, investigators and other law enforcement officials are often acting quickly to preserve evidence in rain, snow, and extreme heat to ensure it can be saved and used to help build their case.
More importantly, the evidentiary chain of custody must be followed to the letter, otherwise experienced criminal defense attorneys like ours will work tirelessly to get it suppressed, so it cannot be used against our clients.
Myth Five: You Only Get One Phone Call After You Are Arrested
If you have been arrested and detained for a crime, you should have access to more than one phone call. This is not necessarily a right, but as long as you are not abusing the system, you should gain access to more than one call.
Your first call should be to a loved one who can plan for the time you will be unavailable, which may include contacting your work or watching your children. Depending on the crime, it could be a day for a DUI arrest or weeks or months for drug or gun crimes.
Your second call should be to a criminal defense attorney, so you can ensure your rights are protected throughout your case.
If the police refuse to allow a second call, refuse to submit to questioning without an attorney present. At this point, law enforcement has no choice but to let you contact a lawyer.