Its New Years time, so its mandatory to do some sort of top 10 list right? For this weeks blog we will look at some of the Misconceptions about the criminal justice system. This is our top ten, certainly open to interpretation and additions.
The Criminal Justice System ALWAYS gets it right
No system is perfect. Perfection is a great goal to strive for, especially when we talk about taking away someone’s freedom, but it just isn’t attainable. Some guilty people get away with what they did, others are found guilty or decide to take a plea agreement to some charge despite believing they did nothing wrong. It is not a perfect system, but one that requires good counsel on both sides to make it as close to perfect as possible.
Someone Committed a Heinous Crime So They Will Go to Prison for the Rest of Their Lives
This just simply isn’t the case. I spent two years of my career as a Prosecutor who handled exclusively homicides and one of the most frustrating things to explain to the grieving family was that even if we convicted the Defendant of Murder, this does not mean they will spend the rest of their lives in prison. The sentencing range for Murder is 45 to 65 years, and the judge can suspend any part over the 45 years. As an example, I tried a case where the Defendant was convicted of setting his girlfriend on fire and burning her to death. Seems like a horrible situation right? Well, the Judge sentenced the Defendant to 55 years with only 45 years executed. This means with good time credit this individual will likely get out after 33 3/4 years. In this situation the judge found mitigating factors and leaned toward the lesser part of the sentencing range. Many times defendants charged with multiple crimes end up with longer sentences than someone that commits murder.
Defense Attorneys are all Shady and Just try to get their Client Off at All Costs
Again, just not accurate. Many attorneys, like the attorneys at Banks & Brower, have worked on both sides of the aisle, as prosecutors and defense attorneys. As defense attorneys we have to make sure that the State followed the requirements of the constitution when building its case. The constitution is the foundation for our country and it is important that the state follow its requirements. On top of all of this, as defense attorneys we spend a significant time counseling clients in an attempt to get them on the right path. We don’t just look at their case and see where we can poke holes. We also examine why they have made the choices they have made and attempt to get them the help they need to overcome those issues. Many times a client’s decision making is being influenced by an addiction, a good defense attorney will assist that client in acquiring treatment and advising them toward better decision making and coping skills in the future.
Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys Can’t Stand Each Other and Just Fight with Each Other
Again, just false. In every business there are people involved that don’t get along with one another. However, in large part, the prosecutors and criminal defense bar respect each other and have great working relationships. It can be a real disservice to a client if you have a bad working relationship with a prosecutor. Most attorneys will tell you criminal law is actually much more civil than civil law is.
The Victim Will Drop my Charges
We hear this one all the time. My girlfriend doesn’t want to prosecute me so she is going to just drop the charges. Girlfriends don’t file charges and they don’t get to dismiss them either. Whether or not to file and/or maintain criminal charges is exclusively the discretion of the prosecutor. Just because a witness stops cooperating doesn’t mean a prosecutor will dismiss charges. Many times they will use tools at their disposal to compel a witnesses cooperation or they will attempt to prove their case with other evidence.
Public Defenders Aren’t Attorneys
This one always makes me laugh, and quite frankly, us private attorneys probably benefit from this misconception. All public defenders are attorneys, its an absolute requirement. Some of them are great attorneys some of them have a lot still to learn, much like the private bar. If you get a public defender you don’t get to pick who, if you hire counsel you do. Sometimes, the amount of time a public defender can spend on a case may be different than the amount of time a private attorney can focus on a given case, that is where there is sometimes a difference.
The Whole System is Corrupt
Hear this one all the time too. Judges are in cahoots with prosecutors, prosecutors work secret deals with defense attorneys etc. etc. etc. Just isn’t happening. Have there been a few highly publicized mis-dealings, sure! Is it commonplace and rampant within the system, absolutely not. In large part the criminal justice system is comprised of talented, smart, hard-working individuals that are trying to do right by their clients and their profession.
If I take the Stand and Make Up a REALLY Good Story, no Jury Will Ever Convict Me
Ahhh the confidence and arrogance of a mis-guided client. I tried numerous jury trials as a prosecutor and salivated when a defendant decided to take the stand. If they took the stand and made up a story to try to help themselves better yet. The devil is in the details, when stories are created details are missed and will be exploited by a talented prosecutor. Many times exercising your right to remain silent is the best strategy.
The Defendant was Arrested he Must be Guilty
By in large police are really good people that try their best at a very difficult profession. However, the job is stressful and there is pressure to solve cases. Sometimes the facts are just not that good and they make decisions on who to arrest on what little information they have, but it was the best they could do. Sometimes, like all interactions that involve humans, they just simply make a mistake. That’s the whole purpose of the system, to fetter out investigations, sort out the facts, and see where the facts lead a jury or judge in terms of a person’s guilt or innocence.
The Criminal Justice System is Excited About the Revisions Coming this Year (2014)
The Criminal code has undergone an overhaul that will be implemented July 1, 2014. It creates several new levels of felonies, it creates new crimes, and it drastically changes the possible penalties of many of the criminal charges. Number 10 on the list is really for all of us in the system. I don’t know anyone that is excited about learning all the new parts of the law. Ready or not, they are coming!
So there it is, our version of a top 10 list for the New Year. Hope everyone has a healthy, safe and prosperous 2014! Criminal Attorneys in Indianapolis at Banks & Brower, LLC is a law firm located on the NW side of Indianapolis serving all of central Indiana.