The justice system can be complicated and intimidating. Unless you went to law school or work at the courthouse, most of your legal knowledge probably comes from television or movies. And, well, Hollywood isn’t going to let facts get in the way of a good story. In an effort to untangle the truth and nothing but the truth, we’re busting twelve popular Texas crime myths:
Myth 1: Cops can’t lie
Police officers are legally allowed to lie to a suspect while investigating a crime and they do it all the time. In fact, officers are trained to manipulate or deceive a suspect in order to obtain a confession. For example, a detective may trick a suspect into confessing by saying they have evidence against them, such as fingerprints or DNA, when they have no such evidence.
Myth 2: Police MUST read you your rights
This is one of the most common legal misconceptions. An officer is only required to read you your rights, called a Miranda Warning, if you are in custody and are about to be questioned about a crime. If they don’t intend to interrogate you – perhaps because they witnessed the crime or you blurted out a self-incriminating statement – they don’t have to read you your rights. Ever.
Myth 3: Undercover officers must reveal their true identity if asked
An undercover officer doesn’t have to reveal his or her true identity, even if a suspect directly asks them if they are a police officer. Many people wrongly believe it’s “entrapment” if an undercover officer lies about being a cop while buying drugs or soliciting a prostitute, for example. Entrapment occurs only if an undercover officer pressures a suspect to commit a crime that they otherwise had no intention of committing.
Myth 4: You can’t be prosecuted if you stayed in the car while a friend committed a crime
This is another common crime myth. If you drive or ride with someone to a location knowing that a crime will be committed, you can be charged and prosecuted for the same criminal offense as your friend. In Texas, this is known as the “law of parties.”
Myth 5: You can’t get a DWI if you’re driving something other than a car – like a golf cart, tractor, or four-wheeler
For purposes of DWIs in Texas, the definition of “motor vehicle” is located in Section 32.34 of the Penal Code. It means a device in, on, or by which a person or property can be transported on a highway. It excludes trains. That is a very broad definition that includes golf carts, tractors and four-wheelers. That means if you are inebriated and get behind the wheel, you are subject to the same DWI rules and penalties as if you were driving a car.
Myth 6: You can’t get arrested for DWI if you haven’t been drinking alcohol
In Texas, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is not limited to alcohol. It’s also a crime to drive a vehicle when you are not normal, mentally or physically, due to drugs in your system, regardless of whether they are illegal, prescription or over-the-counter. This doesn’t mean you can be charged with DWI if you take some medicine and drive. The prosecutor has to be able to prove that you were intoxicated, and they could use signs such as drowsiness or dizziness.
Myth 7: You can’t get arrested if you eat your stash during a traffic stop
People who buy into this crime myth usually make their situation worse. First of all, you could overdose or worse by swallowing drugs. Secondly, if a police officer sees or believes you are hiding or destroying evidence, they could arrest you on a charge of “tampering with evidence.” In Texas, that’s a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. You could actually be facing a much more serious charge by eating drugs than possessing them.
Myth 8: You can get rid of drugs by dumping them in the nearest cup or bottle of liquid
This is another growing misconception. If a law enforcement officers sees, or has reason to believe, that you poured cocaine into a 64-ounce Big Gulp, for example, they can test it. If it tests positive for cocaine, they can weigh the liquid and you could be charged based on the amount of liquid in the cup. In other words, one gram of powder cocaine became 64 ounces when you dumped it into the Big Gulp.
Myth 9: Police can’t search your car without a warrant
While police usually need a warrant to search your home, they only need “probable cause” to search your vehicle. Probable cause means the officer has facts or evidence to believe you committed a crime. For example, if you are pulled over and the officer sees drug paraphernalia on the seat or smells marijuana, the officer has probable cause to search your car.
Myth 10: Your spouse can drop your domestic assault charge
Dropping a domestic assault charge is up the state prosecutor’s office, not your spouse or partner. It’s not uncommon for a “victim” to want to drop charges against their significant other after a situation has calmed down, but it’s not that simple. Because domestic disputes are often repetitive and escalate, many district attorney offices have a “No Drop Policy,” which means the case is going forward whether your spouse wants it to or not.
Myth 11: You only get one phone call from jail
Thank Hollywood for the “one call” crime myth. According to the Texas Administrative Code, inmates are allowed to make two completed phone calls immediately after booking or within four hours after arrival. Some jurisdictions may even let you make more.
Myth 12: You MUST answer a police officer’s questions if arrested
Nothing could be further from the truth. You have the absolute right to remain silent. When an officer warns that “anything you say can and will be used against you,” believe it. Your best bet is to politely tell the officer you are asserting your right to remain silent, ask for an attorney, and decline to answer any questions without a lawyer present.
Benson Varghese is the Managing Partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC, a boutique criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth. He has handled thousands of state and federal criminal cases and taken more than 100 criminal cases to jury trial. He is frequently called upon to handle cases that require a high degree of technical, scientific, or forensic knowledge, and is also a prolific writer and speaker on a variety of topics relating to criminal law.