Wrongfully accused of a crime. What should I do?
Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I was recently accused of theft. In fact, the person who is accusing me said that they have evidence on tape that I committed the crime. I am wondering what I should and should not do to protect myself? I am very worried and concerned that I might be sent to jail for a crime I did not commit.”
If you have been falsely accused of a crime, it’s understandable that you are concerned and probably a bit overwhelmed. Although we do not have enough information about how many people are falsely accused, arrested, and convicted of crimes they did not commit each year, experts suggest that even if the number is 1%, with an estimated 2 million people behind bars in America, this could mean that tens of thousands of innocent people are in jail.
Legal experts also note that the rate of false convictions could be even higher for misdemeanor crimes where a defendant may be more likely to plead guilty, even if they are innocent, than to try to fight the charges.
Steps after you are falsely accused of a crime
So what should you do if you are false accused of a crime? It’s important that you take the charges seriously, especially if the accuser has gone to the police and filed a police report. In fact, the first step after a false accusation is to talk to a criminal defense lawyer. After you have talked to a lawyer they can help you complete the following tasks:
- Obtain evidence about the crime. This could include gathering witness testimony, or physical evidence, such as a video tape.
- Gather information that could support the claim that you did not commit the crime. For instance, if the accuser stated that you stole something from Walmart on December 12 at 4:00 but you have evidence that you were dining with a friend at that time, you should gather evidence such as phone messages, GPS recordings, computer records, or your friend’s testimony that you were with her at the time of the crime.
If you are not sure how to gather information or what information could help prove your innocence, talk to your lawyer. They also may be able to help you get information that witnesses do not want to give such as subpoenaed testimony.
Steps not to take after you are falsely accused of a crime
Sometimes it’s not the crime that gets someone in trouble; it’s the cover-up. Think Richard Nixon. With that in mind, there are certain steps to avoid to make sure that you do not make the situation worse.
- Do not destroy evidence. Even if you think that the information does not pertain to your case. In some instances, deleting emails, text messages, and destroying computers can make you look guilty. Think Hillary Clinton and the email scandal that has plagued her for the last year and a half. She had her staff delete messages that “were personal in nature.” Unfortunately, even if that was true, it looks like a cover-up.
- Do not harass witnesses. For example, it’s important that you do not discuss the case with the accuser or try to get her to change her testimony. Even a simple conversation may be misconstrued as intimidation.
- Do not talk to the prosecutor or police without legal counsel present. Many defendants believe that if they are innocent then a conversation with the police will not harm them. Remember, the police are not on your side. In fact, they can lie to elicit testimony.
- Do not voluntarily provide any evidence to the police without first discussing your case with your lawyer. Protections are offered to all US citizens. You have the right to remain silent. Take advantage of your rights.
What if the accusation moves to formal charges?
While an accusation can be disconcerting, it is a much more serious situation if formal charges are filed against you. In fact, if this occurs, this means the prosecution thinks they have enough evidence to convict you of a crime.
If you have been formally charged of theft and you have not talked to a lawyer, now is the time to hire one and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to convict you of the crime. Remember, it’s not about whether you committed the crime, it’s about whether the state has sufficient evidence to prove you committed the crime.
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