If you break up with your fiancé, do you have to give the ring back? Are Miranda Rights mandatory? Can you be charged with a DUI while driving … a wheelchair?
Criminal defense attorney Michael Cicchini, of Cicchini Law Office, five times on the Rising Stars list in Wisconsin, has some fun debunking common myths and correcting popular misconceptions in But They Didn’t Read Me My Rights!: Myths, Oddities, and Lies About Our Legal System, which he co-authored with Amy Kushner and published last year.
How did the book come about?
The idea came up while sitting around with friends. My [book] agent had given us a book [proposal sample] on medical myth–for example, what happens if you swallow your gum–and, based on that, Sarvan Singh said “You guys should do one on legal myths.” We started throwing out ideas and probably came up with 20 right on the spot.
Were these ideas inspired by your practice?
The ideas came largely from my experiences, but to write a book we had to do the research to back it up. We used a variety of sources for that-from cases to statutes to articles. The law varies dramatically from state to state so one of the things we say in the book is: “This isn’t legal advice.” Our goal was just to show some odd things that happen in the law.
What is the most pervasive myth?
Probably the one we named the book after. Clients are always convinced that the police should have read them their rights, and when they don’t they think they should have their case dismissed. That’s not the law. It’s actually the rarest of cases when the police have to read them their rights.
But in the crime shows…
I think that stems from television. How many times have we seen that on TV where a police arrests someone and it’s at the end of the episode where they’re closing the case and they start reading them their rights?
Any favorite oddities from the book?
A person can be convicted of drunk driving without ever driving the car. That’s probably one of my favorites. There’s a lot of interesting cases where people are being charged for driving a wheelchair drunk. [Or] they’re in the car, they’re maybe even in the passenger seat and they just turn the key to listen to the radio. … They’re convicted because they’re taking the necessary steps to set the car in motion.
Another one is from a chapter on family law. A man can be married to a woman, getting a divorce but before [the divorce goes through], if she becomes pregnant with someone else’s child, he could be legally on the hook for child support–even if he can prove that it’s not his child. It’s called a presumption of paternity.
Why are seemingly irrational laws left to stand?
On the one hand you’ve got defendants’ rights, on the other hand you’ve got victims advocates. [Also] you’ve got judges who need to be re-elected, so there’s always competing forces at work.
How does religion play a role in all of this?
The obvious [influence is with] sex crimes. There isn’t a religion out there that isn’t against human sexuality in some way. Recently we had a prosecutor in Wisconsin who was threatening to prosecute school teachers for teaching sex education to their students. I think he was prosecuting for contributing to the delinquency of minors for teaching them sex education-and this was state-approved sex education. I thought, “Jeez, that’s just one step away from party to the crime of a sexual assault of a child.” I mean, why wouldn’t he then charge them with that, which would be a felony?
Is there a larger point that your book makes beyond just facts?
“The law doesn’t equal rationality.” I think that’s really the underlying theme.
—Interview conducted and edited by Adrienne Schofhauser