Myths and misconceptions about North Carolina’s criminal laws can often cloud the understanding of legal rights and obligations. From mistaken beliefs about self-defense to confusion about search and seizure procedures, these myths can have serious consequences for individuals involved in criminal cases. Separating fact from fiction is crucial when navigating the complexities of the state’s legal system, making it imperative to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney who can provide accurate guidance and ensure that justice is served. Here’s our Top Ten myths in North Carolina Criminal Law:
Myth #1: Police Must Read Miranda Rights
There is no legal requirement that you be read your Miranda rights. Law enforcement is only required to read a person their Miranda rights under certain specific circumstances. These rights, also called Miranda warnings, originate from the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 346 (1966).
Law Enforcement is required to read a person their rights only if the following two conditions are met:
- Custody: the person must be in police custody or under arrest. They cannot be free to leave, and their movement must be restricted by law enforcement.
- Interrogation: there must be express and direct questioning by law enforcement during the time in which the person is in custody.
Thus, if a person in custody and is being interrogated, and the police do not read a person their Miranda rights, then the statements made by the person are inadmissible in court. This protects the person’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The consequence is only the exclusion of evidence, and not a dismissal of the charges.
Myth #2: You Must Talk to the Police
Police are trained to use a variety of tactics to get you to speak to them. These tactics range from friendly approaches to confrontational methods. Often, law enforcement will ask suggestive questions, appeal to morality, downplay the seriousness of the situation, or offer leniency, empty promises, or faux incentives to get you to speak. On other occasions, police may isolate you from others, appeal to your fears, or threaten charges against you for failure to talk.
However, it is essential to understand that you have the right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. You are never legally obligated to speak to the police and you can remain silent without facing legal consequences for doing so.
Myth #3: Witnesses Can Testify at Trial by Letter or Affidavit
Generally speaking, witnesses must testify in person at legal proceedings. Letters and affidavits that are being used to prove the truth of the matters asserted within them are, by definition, hearsay. Unless an exemption or exception applies, courts will exclude letters and affidavits from being admitted. This applies to the prosecution and the defense who both have the right to confront witnesses in the case.
Myth #4: You Only get One Phone Call from Jail
The common misconception that inmates only get “one phone call” is propagated by movies and television. In reality, the rules governing phone calls, visitation, and video conferencing are governed by the facility where the inmate is housed.
In many cases, inmates are arrested, processed, and then permitted to make multiple phone calls, subject to the guidelines of the facility where the inmate is held. It is important to remember that these calls are almost always recorded, and inmates should not discuss any aspect of their case with anyone while on an inmate phone call.
Myth #5: Polygraph Exams or Lie Detector Tests Can Prove Innocence in Court
In the 1980s, North Carolina courts ruled that polygraph examination results are not admissible as evidence criminal trials. The rationale is that the “lie detectors” are inherently unreliable as a device for measuring deception.
Polygraph examinations, however, can be helpful in formulating a proper defense strategy and influencing decisions of the prosecution during an investigation or at any point prior to trial. But it is important to consult with an experienced and qualified criminal defense attorney prior to participating in a polygraph examination.
Myth #6: You Must Fire a Warning Shot Before Engaging in Self-Defense
If you believe this one, it may get you killed. In North Carolina, there is no legal requirement that person must fire a warning shot before engaging in self-defense. North Carolina law recognizes the use of force, including deadly force, under certain circumstances. You have no duty to retreat, nor any duty to provide any warning prior to using force to defend yourself.
The laws on self-defense in North Carolina are often complex and fact specific. Firing a warning shot can become risky and cause the case to become overly complicated. It is advisable to use force only when necessary and when there is an imminent threat to your safety.
Myth #7: Victims of Crime Can Just Drop the Charges
In North Carolina, victims are not parties to criminal cases. Thus, victims have no authority to drop criminal charges.
Criminal charges are filed by a magistrate, law enforcement, or the district attorney’s office. Once filed, the case is prosecuted by the state, and not the victim. From that point forward only the prosecutor or the judge (with proper justification) can dismiss the charges. However, prosecutors often consider the victim’s input, cooperation, participation, and concerns when approaching how to proceed with a case.
Myth #8: Police Must Have a Warrant for Every Search
The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. While a warrant is typically required for searches to be considered “reasonable,” there are numerous exceptions where law enforcement can search without a warrant.
Of course, every case is different, and very fact specific. But courts have recognized searches without a warrant where there is consent, exigent circumstances, incident to arrest, plain view, automobile considerations, inventory search, or a lawful “stop and frisk.” The application of these exceptions is very complex, and it is important to consult an experienced attorney to determine if your constitutional rights have been violated.
Myth #9: Jail House Lawyers Know the Legal System the Best
Jail House Lawyers are inmates who provide legal assistance and advice to fellow inmates while incarcerated. If they are such an expert, they wouldn’t be sitting in jail themselves.
Jail House Lawyers lack knowledge, training, certification, and experience to provide competent legal advice. They often rely on outdated legal information and misinterpretation of applicable rules and statutes. Bluntly put, taking advice from a jail house lawyer, or any non-lawyer, about any criminal matter is a recipe for disaster.
Myth #10: Offenders Will Only Serve Half of Their Prison Sentence, Then Get Out for Good Behavior
In 1994, North Carolina effectively abolished parole and enacted Structured Sentencing (with very few exceptions). Under the structured sentencing system, offenders are sentenced to specific term in prison based on the class of the offense and the person’s prior criminal history. The sentencing system includes guidelines that must be followed by the court in determining the minimum and maximum sentences in every case. As a result, offenders who are sentenced to active prison time must serve every day of the minimum of any active sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release.
Hire A Competent Attorney
Having a competent attorney by your side is an invaluable asset when navigating North Carolina’s criminal justice system. It is essential to rely on legal expertise and guidance to avoid falling victim to any of the myths or misconceptions that can surround the state’s criminal laws. An experienced attorney not only possesses a deep understanding of the legal framework but also knows how to protect your rights, build a strong defense, and advocate for the best possible outcome in your case.