First year law students are taught in Criminal Law that offenses usually include an “actus reus” and a “mens rea”; that is, a “bad act” combined with a “bad intent”. With only a few notable exceptions, such as traffic tickets or DWI/DUI, all criminal prosecutions require the State to prove that the defendant intentionally committed a criminal act.
Keep that in mind as we discuss Pierre’s personal story of how a trip to McDonald’s landed his friend in hot water.
Pierre’s friend had received a $5 bill in change at a parking garage. Later he and Pierre went to McDonald’s for a nutritious lunch and attempted to pay with that $5 bill. The cashier/manager marked the bill with one of those counterfeit pens, and declared it to be a fake.
After pulling another $5 out to pay, the two seat themselves in the restaurant to enjoy their meal. Meanwhile, the police are called, because that’s what happens when counterfeit money is detected. The friend is, of course, eventually questioned by the police:
The cop walks up to our table. “Sir, do you know this is counterfeit bill?”
“Well, I do now,” my friend responds.
At this point the cop holds the bill up the lights. I must say it was a pretty well made bill. “Sir stand up.”
“Place your hands behind your back.”
That’s right. This person was taken into custody, and escorted by two armed police officers out of the building. To make matters worse, he was only read his Miranda Rights after requesting that the officer do so. Now, he wasn’t taken downtown, and was released after 10 minutes or so of interrogation.
So what’s the big deal? Minor interruption and the police eventually did the right thing by releasing the friend, right? Well…
Why did the policeman ask whether he knew it was counterfeit? Because, obviously, unintentionally passing counterfeit bills is not a criminal act. And there’s no other way of interpreting the statement, “Well, I do now” as anything other than “I didn’t know when I gave it to the cashier.”
Sure, the criminal mastermind might be lying to the police, and more investigation is necessary. [This same mastermind just parked himself at a table waiting for the police to arrive after being alerted that his bill hadn’t passed muster.]
But, despite making the eventual correct decision to let the kid go, what two things did the police do wrong here?
First, and most obviously, they arrested the real victim of the crime itself. Handcuffing him is an arrest in this situation, and he’s the one who is out the $5, not Mickey D’s.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the questioned him after the arrest (handcuffing) presumable about the incident. Had this actually been the culprit, and had they gotten a confession, the failure to read the Miranda warnings would probably have made any statements inadmissible in court.
So, from a common sense perspective (this probably isn’t the bad guy) and from a legal perspective (better to interrogate/ask questions before an arrest) the officer’s decision making process was thoroughly flawed. And, by the way, even ten minutes in handcuffs doesn't feel like a "minor interruption" when you are being investigated for a federal offense.