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Debunking Criminal Law Myths in North Carolina – Part 1


When we meet with clients either charged with criminal offenses in Onslow County and elsewhere in eastern North Carolina, we frequently encounter some commonly held beliefs about North Carolina criminal law and procedure that end up needing to be debunked. So much of popular culture revolves around crime and police investigation; the problem is that much of the legal process portrayed on television, movies or in books is purely fictional, but people assume that the real world criminal justice system functions the same way as in the stories.

Today we are going to take a look at several commonly-held criminal law misconceptions. While a lot of these myths can be harmless, some of them can end up causing significant problems if people rely on them.

Criminal Law Myths in North Carolina

You get to make a phone call.

The common misconception is that after a person is arrested they have a right to place one phone call from the jail before anything else happens. This is untrue. The reality is that you have no specific right to a phone call. You may have the right to have an attorney present for certain parts of the criminal process as well as other rights relating to being arrested, interrogated or detained, but making a phone call is not specifically one of them.

The police have to “read you your rights”.

On television, a person knows they are under arrest when the arresting officer reads them their Miranda rights (“you have a right to remain silent…”). In reality, the police never have to inform an arrestee of these rights, and in many circumstances they never do. In general, a law enforcement officer must inform you of your Miranda rights after you have been taken into custody if they wish to use your answers to your questions as evidence in court later. If they fail to inform you of these rights the only likely consequence is that any answers you might give will not be admissible in court. But if the police don’t plan on questioning you they don’t have to Mirandize you. Also, since these rights only apply to police questioning, anything you say that is “spontaneous” and not a response to police interrogation may be fair game to be used against you later so, in general, it is best to say as little as possible when in police custody.

I have to talk to the police or I’ll be charged with obstruction of justice.

Outside of a few narrow exceptions, you have no legal obligation to speak to the police. While some officers may try to intimidate people by threatening to arrest them if they don’t answer questions or talk to the cops, in reality, it is not a crime to refuse to make a statement.