Thanks to TV shows, people think they know all there is to know about legal matters, but the truth is, the law is a lot more complicated than how it is portrayed on shows like Suits. There is a reason it takes 6-7 years for a law student to become a qualified attorney.
If you’ve heard any of the below statements being thrown around, here’s why they are wrong.
1. “You have the right to an attorney only if you’re arrested.”
This is false. The right to an attorney applies any time you are questioned by police or prosecutors, even if you are not under arrest. Police are required to inform you of your Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and have an attorney with you, before questioning you while you’re in custody. However, even if you are not in custody, you can invoke your right to have an attorney there with you during questioning.
2. “If you get hurt on someone’s property, you can sue them.”
There is more nuance to this. Property owners are not automatically liable any time someone gets injured on their property. You would need to prove that the owner was negligent in some way, such as failing to address a known hazard. Even if negligence can be proved, states have differing laws regarding premises liability claims and the level of responsibility owed to visitors.
3. “Verbal contracts are always legally binding.”
Not necessarily. While verbal contracts can be valid, they are harder to prove and enforce compared to written contracts. Certain types of agreements must be in writing to be enforceable. The specifics of verbal contract validity depend on state laws and the nature of the alleged agreement. Relying solely on a verbal contract is risky.
4. “If you live with your significant other for 7 years, you’re legally married.”
Living together for a few years does not automatically create a legal marriage. Marriage requires obtaining a marriage license and having the union solemnized, even if you’ve lived together for years. However, in some places, if you live together and present yourselves to the community as married, you may acquire certain marital rights through common law marriage. But this is not the same as being legally married.
5. “You have to tell the police the truth if they ask you questions.”
You have the constitutional right to not incriminate yourself. The 5th Amendment protects you from being compelled to be a witness against yourself in criminal matters. When questioned by police, you have the right to remain silent, whatever the charge, which is why you need proper legal representation. Any statements made can potentially be used against you, so you are not required to answer questions or volunteer information, even if the police insist.
6. “You can’t get a DUI on private property.”
False. You can absolutely get a DUI on private property if you are caught driving while impaired. DUI laws generally prohibit driving under the influence on any streets, roads, or areas open to vehicle traffic. This includes parking lots, private community roads, and driveways. Police have the authority to follow you onto private property if they witness signs of impaired driving.
7. “The police have to tell you if they’re undercover cops.”
This is not true. Police conducting undercover operations or investigations are not obligated to disclose their identity or status as law enforcement officers. In fact, their ability to pose as ordinary citizens is an essential tool for gathering evidence and intelligence against criminals. They are allowed to interact with suspects without revealing they are police. Your consent to speak with an undercover officer is still considered voluntary.
The law contains many intricacies that people often misunderstand. Be wary of legal myths and oversimplifications. Consult a lawyer if you need qualified guidance on exercising your rights, entering agreements, or interacting with law enforcement. Being properly informed is the best way to protect yourself.