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7 Things TV Crime Dramas Always Get Wrong

Your favorite TV crime dramas are likely highly inaccurate. Here are the most common mistakes that law enforcement has seen on the small screen.

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Law and Order - 1990Universal TV/Shutterstock

You don’t have to receive a Miranda warning when arrested

According to Matt C. Pinsker, a criminal justice professor at the Wilder School at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a practicing criminal defense attorney, and former prosecutor, reading people their rights doesn’t happen as often as TV crime dramas show. If the officer doesn’t need to rely on your answers to questions to convict you of that crime—like for a DUI—then being Mirandized isn’t necessary. These are summary arrests according to Srgt. Paul Grattan, a 17-year law enforcement veteran and a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He also says that this common TV crime drama scene gives birth to a lot of misunderstanding in real life. “Simply put, many people who are arrested do not have to be Mirandized, and it’s rarely done at the scene of a crime or apprehension,” he says. Here are the things medical TV shows get wrong, too.

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"Mindhunter" (Season 1) TV Series - 2017Merrick Morton/Shutterstock

Lawyers don’t sit with law enforcement and their clients for interrogations

Pinsker advises his clients not to say anything. It is extremely rare that anything they say would be helpful. In some situations, Pinsker says clients could do more harm than good by speaking up. “Admittedly, it makes for very exciting and dramatic television to see the evil defendant playing verbal games with the heroes of law enforcement while the sleazy defense attorney sits nearby,” Pinsker says. “But this is nothing like real life.” In reality, by the time a person has an attorney the defendant has already made all the damaging statements possible. If a client does have valuable information, they would tell their attorney before speaking with a prosecutor.

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'Flashpoint' TV Series - 2011CBS/Shutterstock

Detectives don’t lead the SWAT team

Pinskers’ other favorite TV crime drama gaffe is SWAT raids. Sometimes, the main character who is a detective or an ordinary police officer leads the SWAT team in a raid. They are often wearing plain clothes, holding a pistol, and wearing only bulletproof vests in comparison to the SWAT team that is in full gear. “In the real world, the SWAT team would conduct the raid, and once the premise is secured other law enforcement would get involved, such as collecting evidence and interviewing suspects,” Pinsker says. Don’t miss the secrets reality TV show producers won’t tell you.

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True Detective - 2014Anonymous Content/Lee Caplin/Picture/Passenger/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Detectives usually aren’t in charge

That’s right—your favorite detective likely has less pull in real life and tons of higher-ups to answer to, Grattan says. “In fact, detectives in many agencies across the country hold the equivalent level of rank as a police officer,” Grattan adds. “They are typically supervised by sergeants or other executives and never ‘take over’ a crime scene nor [take] command at a major incident.” And while a detective telling a captain to step aside because it is “their crime scene” makes for good TV crime dramas, it would never happen in the real world.  

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Law and Order Special Victims Unit - 1999Universal TV/Shutterstock

There is no such thing as one computer check that tells all

Real cops and detectives have to go through various channels before getting the necessary information for a case. This means checking more than one tell-all database that TV crime dramas have, Grattan says. This includes manually searching files, hunting down family members and court information, as well as other government records. “Furthermore, some information takes a long time to obtain, and formal requests and or subpoenas must be submitted,” Grattan says. “What on television takes seconds, often takes days or weeks.”

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The Blacklist - 2013Davis/Shutterstock

Parking spots aren’t that easy to find

This is a personal pet-peeve for Grattan—the magic parking spot. “One thing I’ve always marveled at was how cops always manage to be able to pull right up in front of the call they’re going to,” Grattan says. “In reality, on many calls, we don’t want to pull right in front of the location we’re going to—for tactical reasons—and even if we wanted to, there usually isn’t any room like there is on TV.” Although cops do have leeway on where they can park, the reality is they still need to find a spot for their car when they answer a call. 

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Law and Order - Criminal Intent - 2001Will Hart/Shutterstock

Confessions don’t close the case

The truth is confessions rarely happen and are often not very dramatic, Grattan says. Additionally, the confessions on TV crime dramas show a suspect admitting to the crime as if that means the case is over. “Confessions aren’t as simple as getting someone to say ‘yes, I did it,'” Grattan says. The confession must be thorough, and investigators must convey that the suspect expressed a motive, knew intimate details of the crime, and that their statements match other evidence. Next, don’t miss the things movies always get wrong about real life

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.

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