Five Common Crime Show Myths

Do you enjoy crime shows? You’re not alone; crime and criminal justice shows are some of the most popular programs on television, with titles such as Bones, Law and Order, and The Closer all gaining critical acclaim recently, and many other classic titles still being fondly remembered today. While they may be entertaining, they aren’t always honest in the way they portray the criminal justice system, and we as Noblesville criminal defense lawyers often have to dispel myths or misconceptions from concerned clients who saw something on television that worries them. Here are five of the most common ones.

Timelines Are Condensed

Hollywood magic can make anything appear quickly, and in the case of crime shows, that’s kind of important. On television, the investigators only have an hour to get to the bottom of their latest case, so the writers have to move things along. As a result, they skip or condense a few steps. In reality, investigating things can take weeks, months, or even years to finish. Getting test results from a lab takes a little more than a few hours: in many cases results for things like fingerprints or DNA sequencing can take a week or more to return a positive result, if there even is one. Trials are never settled in an afternoon after brief deliberation; serious violent crime cases (as most crime shows usually feature) often are tried for weeks at a time.

Evidence is Everywhere & Solves Everything

The latest episode of your favorite crime show usually begins with the investigators being called to the latest scene where they begin an investigation and within minutes they’ve found a perfect strand of hair or an un-smudged fingerprint that starts the investigation with an immediate suspect. On a real crime scene, finding evidence of this quality is exceedingly rare and almost never happens. Scenes take days to fully process and document, and often times the evidence that is recovered doesn’t amount to much. On top of that, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of DNA sequencing, is limited only to known offenders. First-time offenders can’t be identified this way.


Closed-circuit security video is another favorite type of evidence in Hollywood. It’s not unusual to see a computer wizard sitting there manipulating grainy footage of the crime scene and then suddenly “enhancing” the image to be able to clearly read the license plate on the getaway car. This simply isn’t possible beyond a very limited extent. For starters, most security camera footage is low-resolution in the first place to ­­preserve data space. The data that is captured by this camera can only be enhanced a very limited amount, and rarely enough to make a readable license plate from blurry, motion-filled video.

Working Conditions

What many people fail to realize about crime scenes is that the working conditions are always optimal on these shows. You never see investigators bundled up in the frigid cold during a snowstorm or crawling around under a car in the middle of the pouring rain to recover a spent bullet casing. Real-life crime scene conditions are rarely optimal, and in many instances these poor conditions make working that much harder since things like rain, snow, or intense heat can destroy evidence.

You Get One Phone Call

Lots of older shows often toss suspects in jail and tell them they’re allowed one phone call to the outside world. What happens if that person isn’t home? Should I call my family or a lawyer? How do I ask my friend to feed my pet? It doesn’t make sense to only get one call, right? Good, it shouldn’t, and it’s not a real rule. You are allowed to have as many phone calls as you need, but they are not a right and law enforcement can take this privilege away from you if they find you’re abusing it.

The first thing you should do is immediately call a loved one and let them know what has happened and give them any instructions for people you need to contact, including a pet-sitter or someone to watch your children. After that, even if police refuse to give you another call, you can always get one later by refusing to submit to questioning without an attorney present. At this point, law enforcement has no choice but to let you contact a lawyer.