The Law is Tricksey

The laws governing this country are exceedingly complex. That probably sounds like a no-brainer statement. I’ve been proofing a textbook about criminal evidence lately. I used to think there was a sort of giant 10-foot-tall, leather-bound volume of Federal Laws and one equally giant volume for California Laws. The fact is criminal law is based to a tremendous degree on the enormous cumulative body of case law. I’ve learned a lot of things:

1. TV law and real law are not the same things
2. If you are arrested, ask for an attorney. Also, make clear statements like “I am not waiving my rights.”
3. Do not answer any police questions before getting/speaking to your attorney; if you do, you have effectively “waived” your rights
4. There’s a tricky thing about property and “curtilage.” This is an area of your property from which police may or may not (depending on specific circumstances) be able to observe your activities in your home and your possessions without a search warrant and without probable cause
5. Any driver using the road in any state has effectively waived his/her right to refuse drug/alcohol testing if the police have probable cause and wish to test you. You basically can’t say no
6. Your boss can search your work area, desk, computer, without a warrant or probable cause. Your boss can’t search your personal possessions, such as a purse, briefcase, coat pockets, etc., without risking a law suit
7. If you’re in police custody or in a police car or station, do not discuss illegal activity with anybody but your lawyer. You are being filmed and tape recorded and such conversations are generally admissible evidence in court
8. Shoeprints, footprints, tire prints, bite marks, lip prints, palm prints, and all that CSI trace evidence stuff is really used to apprehend and convict people (I didn’t know about lip prints)
9. There are many exceptions to the search and seizure rules designed to protect your constitutional rights and limit police power/abuse including: emergency, public safety, plain view, hot pursuit, juveniles on school property or active in extracurricular activities, etc.

I have read lots of cases where “bad guys” got off because of police mistakes or misconduct, despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt (such as a confession). I have also read lots of cases where people were wrongfully charged and convicted. And many others where I would have thought the defendant would get off because of infringement of constitutional rights, but didn’t because of some allowed, justifiable “exception.”

Disclaimer: If you have questions, get a lawyer. I do not pretend to understand all of this stuff. I am now very glad I never considered going to law school.

2 Responses to “The Law is Tricksey”

  • samayam
    January 3, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Please tell me there is nothing specific that has brought this up recently other than possibly editing a book or two on the subject…


  • sarabellae
    January 3, 2006 at 2:15 pm


    It’s just a book I am working on–not personal experience. However, some of this stuff I’ve read has caused me to think, “there, but for the grace of God, go I” (or someone I love). It now seems like it may be easier to get into serious trouble than I originally thought. Just your thought for the day…


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