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4 Frequently Misunderstood Criminal Law Issues

Criminal defense lawyers often cringe when they hear other people talk about the law. There are many misconceptions about what can and can't occur during a criminal proceeding. Let's take a look at four issues that are frequently misunderstood.


It's often tossed around that hearsay is inadmissible. Strictly speaking, that's true, but the reality is that there are so many exceptions that a prosecutor would have to be incompetent to not find a way to get hearsay admitted into court. The Federal Rules of Evidence carve out 23 exceptions, and many of the exceptions include multiple carve-outs that allow the introduction of hearsay. Most states use evidentiary rules based on the FRE so you can expect all these exceptions to be used in local and state courts, too.


Hollywood has contributed mightily to the notion that certain things are entrapment, and criminal defense attorneys often have to beat back these notions when talking with their clients. Entrapment is such a specific offense by the police that it would essentially require a cop to point you toward a crime and tell you to do it. If the police are recording a conversation, for example, and you just keep talking, nothing is entrapping about that even if they set you up for the conversation.

Circumstantial Evidence

Another common myth that criminal defense lawyers hear about all the time is that a case based entirely on circumstantial evidence can't move forward. This is far from the truth. If enough circumstances add up, that can convince a judge and a jury that a crime was committed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Suppose the only person who was in the vicinity of an alleged assault shows up at the hospital a half-hour later to be treated for lacerations and abrasions on their hands. That circumstance matters. It's not enough to convict a person by itself, but add that to additional circumstances, such as threatening texts and a clear motive for the assault, and a prosecutor can make a case from that.

Cops Can't Lie

The U.S. Supreme Court says otherwise. When lies are used to test a suspect's story, it's legal for the police to fib. For example, the cops can detain two people separately and tell each one that the other person ratted them out. It's up to the subject to avoid talking under such circumstances, and that's why criminal defense attorneys should be present during all police interviews.