Even with all of the entertainment media through which people can learn about criminal law, it remains something of a mystery to the average civilian. Unless you’ve been arrested on criminal charges, you probably have no reason to know anything about this aspect of the law. However, I believe that everyone should be educated about criminal law, so here are a few little-known secrets that you might never have known
Criminal Law: Federal crimes are much worse than state crimes.
Although it might seem to you that state crimes and federal crimes fall into the same category – crime – a federal crime will carry a much stiffer penalty than a state crime. In fact, the difference between the two could mean a difference in five years of prison time, and federal prisons are much harsher than state prisons.
Criminal Law: Keep your mouth shut.
Even if you have claimed your right to silence (via the Miranda rights), what you say to the police can still be used against you. As soon as you tell the police that you aren’t answering their questions until you’ve spoken with a lawyer, they must stop their interrogation. However, anything you give up of your own volition is free game.
Criminal Law: Know the difference.
Miranda rights only apply to suspects who have been taken into custody by the police. If you are asked to speak with the police, but are free to leave, then anything you say can be used against you later, whether or not you have a lawyer present. It is always best to say, “Am I being charged with something?” and if not, tell them to call your attorney.
Criminal Law: Public defenders might be the way to go.
Public defenders get a bad rap because it is always an option for a suspect to hire a high-powered attorney from the fifteenth floor of a major law firm. However, if you need a family member to pay for your attorney fees, it might be better to go with a public defender. It’s something like a home-court advantage; public defenders have worked in that court for several years, and know which buttons to push when it comes to the judges and district attorneys in that court.
Criminal Law: Attorney/client privilege only goes so far.
If you tell your attorney that you plan to lie on the stand, that attorney cannot tell anyone. However, he or she will probably withdraw from the case, which tells the judge exactly what happened. At sentencing, the judge will spare no punishment.
Criminal Law: Money talks.
Robbery is one of the easiest crimes to solve because the burglars usually spend the money that they steal from others. When a suspect purchases and whole new wardrobe, a fancy car or a new house, the prosecutor will subpoena his or her financial records to show that there is no legal reason for the sudden windfall.
Criminal Law: Prison is no cakewalk.
When you hear in movies and on TV that prison is a hard, cold and dangerous place, the writers of the scripts aren’t lying to you. People really do get raped, beaten, stabbed, murdered and otherwise violated in prisons, and there isn’t much done to stop the abuse. Also, child molesters really are the lowest on the food chain.
Criminal Law: Appeals are typically exercises in futility.
You’ll hear about lawyers who appeal cases left and right, but when it comes to criminal court, it rarely bears fruit. Criminal cases can only be appealed for errors that the judge makes during the trial, and since their fellow judges are the ones who decide the appeals, very few win out.
Criminal Law: Don’t represent yourself.
Trust me, it’s a bad idea. Do you know how to file a motion to suppress evidence? Do you know what constitutes a defense for not guilty because of medical disease or defect? If not, then you should hire a lawyer. Pronto. Attorneys know how the system works from beginning to end, and even if they can’t make your transgression go away, they can usually lessen the sentence.