Maggie A's Meanderings




October 9, 2011

15 Important Legal Points I've Learned from Watching "Law & Order"

Through the more than twenty years I've been watching "Law & Order" and its spin-offs, I've learned a lot about the legal system.* Here are 15 legal points I've learned from "Law & Order" that are important to remember:

1. Always, always, always specifically state that you want a lawyer. Do not say, "I think I should have a lawyer" or "Maybe I should have a lawyer" or "Do I need an attorney?" Say, "I want a lawyer." Once you have invoked your right to an attorney, then the police must stop questioning you ---- which doesn't mean they have to stop talking to you. They just can't ask any questions.
2. You must clearly invoke your right to silence. Say, "I'm invoking my right to silence."
3. You don't have to answer any questions that the police ask you --- even if you haven't invoked your right to silence. Refusing to answer questions is not obstruction of justice, though the police will threaten that it is. It's only obstruction of justice if you lie or mislead the police. Keeping silent is not obstruction.
4. The police are not your friends. Do not believe any attempts at friendship. Those are just ploys to get information out of you.
If the police send anyone else in to question you, remember you're still in a police station being questioned and it's being observed. However, you may have some wiggle room if you've invoked your rights to an attorney and to silence if you can prove the person they sent in was working as agent for the police even if that person is your father.
6. You're either in custody or you're not in custody. If you're not in custody, you're free to leave. If you attempt to leave and the police will not let you leave, then you're in custody. If you're in custody then you have the right to an attorney. 
7. The police will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid calling you a "suspect." That's because as an official suspect there are considerations that come into effect.  The police will avoid labeling you a suspect right up until the moment they put the cuffs on you.
8. If your underage child is being questioned by the police, the police will avoid calling him/her a suspect as then a parent has to be present for the questioning. If the child is not a suspect, but just a "witness," then the police don't have to let the parents know. Which is why you should teach your children that they never have to answer any questions the police ask them unless a parent is there and says to.
9.Privilege is very narrowly construed.......
Between spouses it covers only speech (verbal definitely, I don't know about written). It does not cover anything you see your spouse do. (Contemplate the irony that giving money to a politician is "speech," but giving money to your spouse isn't "speech.") It also does not cover anything you say if someone else overhears it because.....
Privilege is void if a third party is present. For therapy it means that by definition group therapy is never privileged. AA or any kind of self-help group is not privileged. If you're undergoing any kind of individual counseling and someone you're trying to work something out with (a spouse, parent, etc) is brought in, that session is not privileged.
The same holds true with attorney--client privilege. If someone else is there (who doesn't work for the lawyer), there's no privilege. 
If a doctor discusses something about your health in front your spouse, etc., there's no privilege. Your health records are supposed to be confidential, but apparently that's a big joke.
Communication with a spiritual advisor, even a priest, is not privileged. The only religious communication that is privileged is specifically if you're confessing. But if it is a confession, you'd better make sure you cross your "t"s and dot your "i"s because the prosecutor will try to say it's not an official confession. 
Your name as a client is not privileged. So if just by knowing your name, the police can then use your identity to track down something you don't want tracked down, don't give your name.
10.Do not open the door for the police. Speak to them through the door.
Do not allow police into your place of residence. If you open the door for them they'll barge their way in. Then they'll go in any room and start looking and poking into things even though they're only supposed to be limited to what's in plain sight. If you have made the mistake of letting the police into your home, never under any circumstances let them out of your sight. If there's more than one, do not let them split up. Do not believe any claims that one of them needs a drink of water, has to go to the bathroom, etc. They're just trying to split up so the one you're not watching can snoop through your place.
Do not step foot outside of your place of residence. Inside your residence the police need a warrant or to witness you committing a crime to arrest you. Outside of your residence the police can arrest you just because they feel like it and, depending on the jurisdiction, they can hold you for up to 72 hours without pressing charges.
11. Never voluntarily consent to a search or voluntarily turn over any records. If the police say, "Well, we can get a warrant/subpoena." Then you tell them, "You do that."
12.Make the police get a warrant to obtain your DNA.
Never volunteer a DNA sample. Once your DNA is in the system, it stays in the system forever for comparison in other investigations.
Anything you leave behind or discard can be used to test your DNA without your permission. If you eat or drink anything, take the trash with you. Do not throw away so much as a tissue.
13.Rights extend only to the person who's rights were violated. Illegally obtained evidence can be used against anyone else. Such as an illegally taped confession between a clergy and penitent being used against someone the penitent mentions participated in the crime. Or video tapes seized in an illegal search being used against someone because he didn't live in the apartment where the tapes were found.
14. The only one who can actually make a deal is the judge. The police do not have the power to make deals. Neither do prosecutors. So even though you think you have a deal, a judge can throw it out.
15. Make sure any deal covers every jurisdiction. There are simultaneous, multiple jurisdictions: city, county, state, federal. Just because you make a deal in one jurisdiction doesn't mean you won't be prosecuted by another jurisdiction. A murder charge on a state level can be a civil rights violation on a federal level.

*I don't know how much of this is actually accurate. "Law & Order" is still just a TV show. And laws do vary by jurisdiction. But this is all information I'll keep in mind if I have a run-in with the criminal legal system.

Law and Order Book Cartoon

For more about the law read "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral -- Justified?"
To read about Hollywood's often inaccurate depictions check out "Hollywood's Bizarre Take on Rape," "The (Not So) Great Zombie Apocalypse" and "4 Classic Novels that Are Way More Depressing than You Think They Are Based on the Movies."
Please take a moment to look around the Archive.



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