Lawyers who have practiced for awhile have come to accept the unfairness and injustice that is present in the criminal justice system. Over time you discover that the system is stacked against criminal defendants – despite what the State wants you to believe. You learn that innocent people get arrested – and convicted. And many times there is nothing you can do about it. Working with the Innocent Project of Texas for last several years, as well as representing innocent people who have been convicted I come to believe it happens far more often than we think.
Those who have been conditioned to believe the criminal justice systems works find this shocking. I’ve represented a number of people who had “faith” in the system – only to discover that it didn’t always work like it should. As lawyers, we have to remind ourselves that many times clients do not understand how the system works. Questions we believe are obvious are asked in good faith. One of those I’ve heard is whether you can get arrested if you haven’t done anything wrong.
The short answer is of course you can. There are several reasons for that answer. The most basic is that the police do not have to be convinced you are guilty before they can convict you. Instead, they only need “probable cause” to believe you are guilty. That simply means there is evidence that suggests you “might” be guilty. That is a lower standard than the one required to convict you – which is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
As a result of the lower standard, police will often leave it to the prosecutor and the courts to determine guilt. They view their job as simply presenting the evidence to someone else who will make the ultimate decision. In other words – it’s not their job to decide if you are guilty or innocent.
Another result of the lower standard is that you can be arrested on nothing more than the word of someone else – which is something else many people have a hard time accepting. As long as the officer doesn’t think the individual is not lying you are probably getting arrested.
I’ve had more than one family tell me they learned the hard way – the people who need competent legal help the most are those who are actually innocent. I’ve also had people tell me they expected the system to work, and they would be found not guilty – only to find out the hard way that it doesn’t always work that way. If you are in that situation – or know someone who is – don’t let them make that mistake. Get the best lawyer you can, and rely on them to make the system work for you.