The justice system labors to put the bad people in jail and protect the good, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, people are wrongfully accused of a crime, and they can serve hard time if the steps leading up to trial aren’t handled properly.
No one is immune from false accusations, large or small. It could involve a case of shoplifting or petty theft, which leads to a fine or a few months in jail at most. Or the accusation could be something that would put you in jail for years to life, such as rape or murder.
Both can lead to serious consequences that will affect your future employment and education opportunities. It’s unclear exactly how many innocent people are in jail, but a few studies estimate it’s between 2.5 and 5 percent of all U.S. prisoners.
That comes to about 20,000 people who are in prison but may be innocent. You don’t want to become one of those falsely convicted inmates.
If you’re accused of a crime you didn’t commit, it’s essential for you to know what to do next. Your actions immediately following the charge could make the difference between conviction and acquittal. If you’ve been falsely accused, here’s what you should do.
Hire an Attorney
This should be the very first step you take. Unfortunately, far too many innocent defendants skip this because they believe their innocence will be proved naturally by the investigation.
It’s good to trust the justice system, but it’s safer to recognize that it has its faults. Perhaps evidence could be planted, or a talented prosecutor can make you look guilty, even when you’re not.
You also shouldn’t accept the popular notion that retaining a defense attorney makes you look guilty. In fact, it’s the opposite: Hiring an attorney early in the investigation will mitigate risk and increase your chance of being proven innocent.
You know the saying, “innocent until proven guilty,” and it’s good to place some faith in that saying. But without a good defense lawyer, you may, in fact, be proven guilty.
Don’t Say Anything
Once you’ve hired a lawyer, this will be his or her very first piece of advice to you, so you might as well be prepared to practice it from the start. If you’re accused of a crime you didn’t commit, don’t give in to the temptation to declaim your innocence and make excuses for why it couldn’t have been you. Just say, “I need to call a lawyer.”
Again, there’s a misconception that saying those words can make you look more guilty than if you deny committing the crime. But exercising your right to remain silent will always do more good than harm.
As a human being, your memory and actions are fallible. You might tell your side of the story after being accused, only to remember further details later. Any inconsistencies in your story can make you look guilty, even if it was just your faulty memory.
You’ll get your chance to tell your story after you’ve discussed the details with your lawyer. An attorney will sit down with you, carefully go over the details, and help you remember everything so no inconsistencies arise. It’s the best way to prove your innocence.
Ask for Search Warrants
In many cases, the simplest answer to proving your innocence will be a DNA test or a home search, which can often make your innocence clear when no physical evidence surfaces. However, there are many instances in which incriminating evidence might turn up in these proceedings. It might seem unlikely, but you can’t rule out the potential for someone planting evidence.
Furthermore, evidence may surface that seems harmless, but turns out to be incriminating in court. For example, if you’re convicted of a crime that occurred at your favorite bar, the bar’s napkins or matchbook might be found in your home.
That doesn’t mean you were there at the time of the crime, but it won’t look good to a jury. By order of law, you can reject any requests for searches or testing without a warrant present. Quite often, an accuser doesn’t have enough evidence on you to demand a search warrant, which could protect your innocence without further investigation.
Gather Evidence and Witnesses
Sometimes, you may possess clear evidence of your innocence. After you’ve been accused and prior to any search warrants being issued, you need to gather this evidence and bring it to your lawyer, not to the arresting officer.
If you have contact with anyone who could corroborate your story, ask that person or those persons to share their side of your story with your lawyer as well.
As you look for proof of your innocence, you may come across evidence that does not support your story. Whatever you do, don’t destroy or try to hide it in case a search ensues. These things have a way of coming to the surface, and hiding or destroying evidence will make you look very guilty.
If you find incriminating evidence, discuss the matter with your attorney. He or she will advise you on the best course of action and develop a plan to maintain your innocence in spite of the evidence.
Stay Away from the Accuser
It’s tempting to contact your accuser and confront the person face to face, especially if it’s someone you know. You might think you can work things out and solve the problem peacefully, but it’s not worth the risk.
Any conversation you have with the victim and/or accuser will likely complicate the matter further. A good prosecutor could use any contact with the accuser or victim against you.
You might say something during the confrontation that makes you sound guilty, or the prosecutor could charge you with intimidating the other person. Let your lawyer and the authorities act as the go-between.
Consider Your Options
A good lawyer can get the charges droped. However, many falsely accused individuals must go through formal proceedings to prove their innocence. If that happens, you should know your options.
Often, you’ll be proven innocent without a hiccup. All charges will be dropped, and you’ll be on your way without anything on your record. At other times, you won’t be so lucky.
You could consider a plea bargain, which may be in your best interest if the case seems too strong for you to fight with the evidence you have. A plea deal can give you the least punishment for the crime being prosecuted; it could allow you to avoid jail time.
If you have a great lawyer, however, there will be no need for a plea bargain. You’ll win the case, and you can even sue for defamation of character following the trial.
This can get you a settlement and public exoneration to help address the heavy financial obligations and emotional repercussions of the trial.
If You’ve Been Falsely Accused of a Crime, Contact Rowdy Williams Law Firm P.C. Today!
Make Rowdy Williams the first call you make after you encounter a criminal accusation. Our team has more than 30 years of experience in providing aggressive legal representation against criminal charges.
We believe in your cause and are committed to helping you fight a conviction every step of the way. For more information about how we can fight for you, contact us today!