Commonly Held Misconceptions About the Criminal Justice System
Hello, my name is Matthew Miller and I am a former prosecutor and currentcriminal defense lawyer who defends people accused of crimes. During my years of practice, first as a prosecutor, and now as a criminal lawyer I have observed that much of the general public harbors many misconceptions about the criminal justice system and criminal courts in particular. The following are some common misconceptions/myths I have observed over the years:
1. AN OFFICER MUST SHOW ME THE RADAR GUN IF I AM ISSUED A SPEEDING TICKET.
This is incorrect. Nowhere in the Illinois Vehicle Code or Illinois Administrative Code is an officer required to show a defendant what the officer’s radar device reads. When a speeding case goes to trial, for the reading of the radar gun to be admissible,the officer simply testifies that he has been trained to use the machine, that the machine was calibrated, and the machine was checked at the begining of the shift to ascertain that it was working properly.
2. THE POLICE CANNOT GIVE ME A SPEEDING TICKET IF I AM ONLY GOING 1-5 MPH OVER THE SPEED LIMIT.
Any violation of the speed limit provides reasonable articulable suspicion that the law was broken for the officer to commence a traffic stop. The Illinois Motor Vehicle Code does not provide a “range” that a driver must be over the speed limit before they can be pulled over.
3. THE POLICE MUST BE THERE AT THE 1ST COURT DATE OR MY TICKET GETS DISMISSED.
This generally is not true. In very limited circumstances a motion can be filed demanding a trial on the first court date on certain violations of the vehicle code. In most instances, the first court appearance is simply used to determine whether the defendant needs time to hire the services of an attorney or if it is a petty ticket where jail is not a possibility, whether they want to deal with the prosecutor and try and resolve the case themselves.
4. I WILL HAVE MY TRIAL ON THE 1ST COURT DATE I AM GIVEN.
This is simply not the case in that each party is allowed time to prepare for trial and hire counsel if need be.
5. THE POLICE ARE THE ONES WHO FILE CRIMINAL CHARGES.
The police make an arrest on what they believe is a violation of the law. The State’s Attorney’s office reviews the officer’s report and compare the facts as reported with the Illinois Criminal Code and then file charges based on what laws the prosecutor believes enough evidence exists to support a criminal charge for.
6. IF CHARGES AGAINST A CO-DEFENDANT ARE DISMISSED, CHARGES AGAINST ME MUST BE DISMISSED.
Simply not the case. Fairness often does not play a part in the criminal justice system. A co-defendant may have charges dismissed for a myriad of reasons unrelated to the case. The co-defendant could be an informant for the State. The co-defendant could be perceived by the State as being somehow less culpable. The co-defendant may agree to testify against you.
7. THE JUDGE CAN DISMISS MY CHARGES IF I CAN JUST TALK WITH THE JUDGE.
No. It would be improper for the judge to dismiss charges without an appropriate motion being filed supported by a legal basis for a dismissal. Most judges get very upset at defendants who try and hold what is essentially an impromptu trial or hearing without notice to the State. Further, it is improper for a judge to have a hearing or communication with a party regarding a case without the other side having the opportunity to be present.
8. IF THE VICTIM DOESN’T WISH TO PRESS CHARGES, I CAN’T BE CHARGED WITH A CRIME.
Although a victim may have been the person who initially called the police. Once the police report has made it to the State’s Attorney’s office, it is the State’s Attorney who presses charges, not the victim. However, generally speaking, an uncooperative witness can often lead to the dismissal of charges if their testimony is necessary for the State to be able to prove their case.
9. IF I AM NOT READ MY MIRANDA RIGHTS THE CASE MUST BE DISMISSED.
This is perhaps the most widely held misconception. The impact of the Miranda case was that if a person is in custody and they are asked incriminating questions and are not advised of their right to remain silent, the responses to those questions cannot be used against them in a court of law. That is all. In very rare circumstances, after the filing of the appropriate motions by a skilled attorney, the entire case may be dismissed. However, if the accused is not in custody, volunteers information, or later answers the same questions after being read Miranda warnings, their statements can be used in court against them.
10. A POLICE OFFICER MUST TELL ME HE IS A POLICE OFFICER IF I ASK HIM.
If this was the case, no undercover officer would ever be able to stay under cover. Police are allowed to lie and it is often considered a legitimate police tactic to lure people into trusting an undercover officer.
11. IF THE POLICE TELL ME THEY WON’T ARREST ME IF I ANSWER THEIR QUESTIONS AND HELP THEM; THEY HAVE TO LET ME GO.
The police do not have to let you go. However, depending on the facts and circumstances of the questioning and what was promised the basis of a Motion to Suppress Statement may exist.
12. PUBLIC DEFENDERS AREN’T ATTORNEYS.
Public Defenders are all licensed attorneys who have passed their respective State’s bar exam. Many Public Defenders are good hard working people with crushing caseloads. As with any profession, there are different levels of competence. If assigned the Public Defender, a person generally does not get to pick who their attorney is. They may be assigned an exceptional attorney, a mediocre one, or an incompetent one.
If you have further questions, please visit my website at www.il-crimlaw.com and complete my online submission form.