Being arrested for a crime can be life-changing. You’re often hand-cuffed and transported to prison before appearing before a judge or a jury of your peers to learn your future. Sometimes, that future involves fines; other times, it comes with lengthy jail sentences.
However, not all criminal cases are straightforward. Sometimes, you’re arrested for crimes you haven’t committed. You might even be the victim of law enforcement mistakes. If you’re currently navigating the legal system for a crime, here are some of the most important criminal investigation mistakes you need to know. This information might prove helpful for your defense strategy.
Asking Questions Without Your Lawyer Present
Most people are familiar with the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment revolves around criminal prosecutions. Under it, anyone accused of a crime has the right to Assistance of Counsel for their defense.
This means that you don’t have to answer any questions presented to you by the police if attorneys from law firms like Liberty Law aren’t present. However, some law enforcement officers press people into answering questions and demand that they do.
If you’ve said something before your lawyer arrives, the courts might choose to suppress all details leading up to when your attorney arrives at your side. This might strengthen your case and weaken that of the prosecution.
Not Securing the Crime Scene
Not securing the crime scene is a surprisingly common criminal investigation mistake. It has been highlighted during many high-profile cases, like the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. The average crime scene has crucial evidence that can possibly identify who committed the crime and rule out those who didn’t. When law enforcement makes this severe mistake, evidence can be lost, tampered with, and not gathered at all.
New DNA and footprints can also be introduced to the scene that aren’t relevant, potentially increasing the risk of innocent parties being identified as criminals. If you have been charged with a crime and your lawyer doesn’t believe the crime scene was secured, you might be able to use this mistake as part of your defense strategy.
Failure to Collect and Store Evidence Properly
Evidence often speaks louder than any witness could. It can tie specific people to a scene and help law enforcement paint an accurate picture of how a criminal act took place. That picture can have gaping holes if evidence isn’t collected or adequately stored. Defense attorneys can sometimes use these holes to help their clients walk free.
A number of evidence types can be collected at the average crime scene, such as skin cells, hair, blood, footprints, and fingerprints. Even weapons and gun residue can be important for building a case. Whenever the police take photos of evidence or collect it, they’re supposed to secure it appropriately to avoid it being lost, damaged, or contaminated. When they make mistakes, there is a risk that any results or conclusions drawn from that evidence can be incorrect.
Breaking the Chain of Custody
A chain of custody describes a process that evidence follows before it ends up before the courts to strengthen a case. This process involves how it was collected and safeguarded, who handled it, and the dates and times for collecting and transferring it. If errors exist in this chain of custody, judges and juries can question the evidence’s integrity. In fact, there can be a cloud of doubt over whether it’s solid proof of a crime. Many chain of custody errors can occur throughout a criminal investigation, including:
- Not securing the evidence properly
- Not storing the evidence appropriately
- Not documenting where the evidence was collected
- Not putting steps in place to ensure the evidence isn’t altered
- Not controlling who can handle the evidence
If the evidence is integral to the prosecution’s case and they’re relying on it to prove someone is guilty of a crime, breaking the chain of custody can sometimes see their entire case fall apart.
Conducting Illegal Searches
Law enforcement officers can’t just walk into your home randomly and start collecting items. Not only could that cause a great deal of stress for homeowners, but it’s also illegal. They must have probable cause or a search warrant.
If they don’t have either of those things and conduct a search anyway, it can be described as an illegal search. In this instance, the courts may decide not to use any potential evidence of a crime they found in your home to strengthen the prosecution’s case. This can often have devastating consequences for a prosecutor’s case but positive ones for the defense.
Using Excessive Force
Excessive force describes exerting force above what a police officer believes is reasonably required for an arrest, seizure, or investigatory stop. Sometimes, excessive force can leave people injured or even result in their deaths.
Defense attorneys can use claims of excessive force to potentially negotiate better outcomes for their clients. Charges might not be dropped, but clients might stand a better chance of securing favorable plea deals.
Not Reading You Your Miranda Rights
Miranda rights, also referred to as a Miranda warning, describes the information a police officer must give someone when they are detaining them. They include the right to remain silent since anything they say can be used as evidence against them, consult with an attorney, and have an attorney appointed if they can’t afford one.
If the police haven’t read you your rights or don’t have an official waiver from you stating that you’ve waived your rights, any information you provide them may be inadmissible. Miranda rights entered U.S. law after a court case involving Ernesto Arturo Miranda in 1966 against the Arizona Supreme Court. His Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested and put on trial for armed robbery, kidnapping, and rape.
While Ernesto was retried and convicted, the circumstances triggered the use of Miranda rights to preserve statement admissibility. While each state has different variations of the Miranda warning for law enforcement to read, they must include the above mentioned information.
Just as everyday citizens aren’t perfect, neither are criminal investigators within law enforcement. Police officers and crime scene investigators can make a number of mistakes that can change the outcome of many criminal cases.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.