The common perception that most people have is that the majority of Americans follow the law and that a smaller percentage decides to break it. They assume that most of the people who break it then get caught and enter the criminal justice system. Even with the overcrowding in modern prisons, the general feeling is that most Americans are not criminals.

Is that true? Some have argued the exact opposite. They claim that the wide array of laws in America, which many people do not even know they’re breaking, mean that 100% of Americans are criminals. Though they acknowledge that just 25% of people have a criminal record, that is just because the other 75% have never been caught — not because they did not break the law.

Looking at anecdotal evidence, it’s easy to see how this could be true. How many people drink underage? It’s so common on college campuses, and yet most students don’t get arrested. How many use illegal drugs? Even those who consider themselves law-abiding citizens may have tried them once or twice.

Plus, there are laws people break without knowing and they never get caught, but that doesn’t mean it was legal. For example, maybe you shared prescription drugs with a roommate after you were done with them. You were just trying to help, but you were technically dealing drugs and could have faced stiff charges if caught.

Thinking about criminal law in this context shows just how common violations are and how it’s often just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you do get arrested, you need to know what defense options you have.

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