Before arresting someone, the police will conduct a criminal investigation to determine if the suspect committed a crime and collect evidence to help convict them. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials can make mistakes when investigating a crime.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense in Northern Carolina, it is important to understand the common errors that may have been made in the criminal investigation that led to your arrest. These mistakes can be the basis of a strong defense strategy—even if you are guilty of the crime you are accused of committing.
Six Mistakes That May Have Been Made in Your Criminal Investigation
Police errors can seriously jeopardize the prosecutor’s case against the defendant and result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense through a plea agreement. In some cases, mistakes in the investigation can result in someone being falsely accused of a crime they did not commit. Here are some common mistakes that the police make:
#1: Failing to Secure the Crime Scene
The crime scene often contains crucial evidence that can identify who committed the offense. It is crucial that the police properly secure the crime scene so that outside materials or individuals do not tamper with or otherwise interfere with the evidence. Here are problems that result when the police do not properly secure the scene:
- Evidence at the scene could be interfered with.
- New fingerprints, hair, footprints, and other evidence could be introduced at the scene.
- Crucial evidence could be erased or smudged by the officer, making it impossible to use to identify who committed the crime.
#2: Failing to Properly Collect Evidence
Many types of evidence are collected in a criminal investigation. They include:
- Skin cells
- Gun residue
- Fire accelerants
- Drugs or alcohol
When the police collect evidence or take photos of it, they are required to properly secure the evidence and package it to avoid problems with it being contaminated, lost, or damaged. When they fail to do this, test results could be inconclusive or wrong, and evidence that can result in a conviction or could be used to prove an individual’s innocence could be lost. Here are common mistakes police may make:
- Not packaging the evidence correctly
- Failing to maintain a chain of custody
- Not sealing the packaging or labeling the evidence properly
- Not documenting the location where the evidence was collected
#3: Failing to Maintain the Chain of Custody
It is crucial that the police maintain the proper chain of custody of any evidence from the time it is collected to when it is presented as evidence against the accused in court hearings. When the police make errors in the chain of custody, the integrity of the evidence can be questioned, or the evidence could be lost.
Common chain of custody errors includes not securing or storing the evidence properly, not documenting where the evidence was collected, not preventing the evidence from being altered, or not controlling who is allowed to handle the evidence. If there is a break in the chain of custody, the judge could rule that the evidence cannot be used against the accused in their criminal case. If the evidence is crucial to the prosecutor’s case, the charges may be dismissed.
#4: Not Giving Miranda Warnings and Violating Other Constitutional Rights
The police are required to give a suspect their Miranda warnings when they are taken into custody. This includes informing the individual of the following:
- They have a right to remain silent.
- Any statements they make will be used against them.
- When being questioned, they have a right to an attorney, and a lawyer will be appointed if they cannot afford one.
Unfortunately, the police do not always advise suspects of these constitutional rights when questioning them. They also question them after the accused asserts their right to remain silent or to an attorney.
Officers are required to have reasonable suspicion to stop someone, probable cause to search or arrest them—which is the honest and strong suspicion that the suspect committed an offense— consent to a search, or a warrant to search or arrest an individual. These are basic constitutional rights. In addition to violating these rights of suspects, police also make the following errors:
- Fabricating or exaggerating the evidence against a suspect to obtain a search or arrest warrant
- Not specifically stating the items to be seized in a search warrant
- Searching for or seizing evidence not specified in the warrant
- Serving the warrant outside the hours specified in the warrant
- Serving the wrong person with the warrant at an incorrect location
Any of these errors could be grounds to suppress the evidence, which may result in the charges being reduced or dismissed.
#6: Using Excessive Force
The police are allowed to use reasonable force when stopping and arresting an individual. However, as we see in the news regularly, they often use excessive force, which in too many cases results in the suspect being injured or dying.
While a claim of excessive force may not result in the charges being dismissed, it could lead to a favorable plea bargain with the prosecutor. In addition, the person may be able to file a civil lawsuit for violation of their constitutional rights.
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If you are facing criminal charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.