The scary part is how easily it could happen to any one of us. An informal, pleasant gathering of neighbors over good food and good wine could be the beginning of a nightmarish spiral into a confusing and frightening justice system. Proving that you are innocent–innocent!–may cost you, not your false accuser, so much time, stress, energy, and money. Among other things, you will need a committed lawyer and a healthy bank account to beat a completely bum rap. Of course, few people give much thought to what they should do (and not do) if they are falsely accused. You might have an “it’ll never happen to me” attitude but the truth is, there’s no way to know for sure what curveballs life might have in store—and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Read on for 12 lessons that might make a huge difference if you or a loved one is ever falsely accused of a crime.
Have an “arrest plan” in place (yes, it could happen to you).
Generally, people don’t assume that their homes will catch fire. Statistically speaking, it’s not a likely occurrence. But most people still take out homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, just in case. Likewise, you’ve probably considered what you’d do if someone approached you in a dark parking lot and depending on where you live, your family may have a wildfire, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake plan in place. In the same way, you should think through and be prepared for a possible arrest. Be forearmed with any strategy or knowledge, so that you are not left floundering, completely at the mercy of ‘the system.’ It’s a good idea to think about what you would do if you were confronted by the police at your own front door, or how you might respond if you received a phone call telling you that a loved one had been arrested. That disaster may have a higher probability than many of those for which you have prepared. Likewise, it is wise to have “the talk” with your kids beforehand about what they should do if they are ever arrested or interrogated by law enforcement officers, regardless of the reason.
Be the first to call 911.
The person to call 911 is always going to be considered the victim, regardless of the circumstances. If you find yourself in any sort of threatening situation, whether it’s with a family member, friend, coworker, or complete stranger, don’t hesitate. Be the first to call 911. While it may not seem “right” or “fair,” the first person to call 911 is going to be treated as the victim, regardless of the facts or the truth. Accusers are usually treated by law enforcement as the victim since they heard their version of the story first and once you have been taken into custody, you have been classified as the perpetrator of the crime. The so-called victim will receive support from victims’ advocates, the press, law enforcement, the community, etc., while you and your family are on your own to clear your name. Being the first to pick up the phone can save you an unimaginable amount of stress, time, notoriety, and money.
Everyone involved has the right to remain silent.
Imagine the following scenario: Your spouse (or any loved one) has just been handcuffed and taken away from your home in a police car. You have no idea what is going on, and you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety, panic, confusion, and fear. Meanwhile, other officers and detectives have remained at your residence. Your first instinct is to talk to them, to tell them the truth about what happened, and to prove to them that your spouse has done nothing wrong. Don’t. Even if you aren’t the person being accused of a crime, exercise your right to remain silent. Don’t talk to anyone without a lawyer present. In court you and anyone else involved may be grilled by the prosecution about what you said and what you didn’t say.
Realize that the criminal justice system can be just as hard on the innocent.
If you watch television shows or movies based around the legal system, you might take it for granted that the law officers, investigators, and prosecutors are going to search for the truth and examine the evidence before prosecuting. — reality sometimes looks a little different. The criminal justice system in the U.S. is a ‘flow system,’ meaning that the system wants to dispose of as many cases as quickly as possible. They do this by negotiating plea bargains. A plea bargain is the quickest and least expensive way for them and for you to end the process. Accepting a plea bargain, even to a lesser offense, however, may mean having a criminal record as well as having conditions imposed on you like alcohol testing, community service, or limits on travel. Would you be willing to do that if you knew you were innocent? If not, you will have a battle to fight and can end up paying financially and emotionally for not playing the game the system’s way.
Expect to be treated like you’re guilty.
Again, what you see on TV and what happens in real life are two different things so don’t expect a full-scale Law and Order- or CSI-type investigation. Instead, expect to be prosecuted even if the facts and evidence don’t support a guilty verdict. Unless your case is extremely high-profile, it’s unlikely that the prosecutor will even review the case file until shortly before the trial. And the prosecutor will proceed even when the supposed victim indicates that he or she prefers to put an end to the proceeding. Meanwhile, you might be forced to live under court-ordered stipulations that resemble nothing so much as parole. Not to mention the fact that you may be in and out of court with your name in the newspaper. Even after being acquitted, it can be a challenge to get the newspaper to run a story announcing your innocence.
Proving your innocence can come with a very high price tag.
Proceeding to trial can double your legal expenses and made the process last twice as long. In contrast, the accuser may not have to pay legal fees, and transportation for them to and from the trial may even be covered. Many families will not have either the financial or emotional resources to successfully undertake this course of action so you need to know the costs in advance before deciding to go ahead. Yes, I know, it seems incredibly unfair–even unbelievable–that an innocent person would have to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to prove that he has done nothing illegal. But unfortunately, sometimes that’s reality.
Getting a lawyer doesn’t imply guilt. (In fact, innocent people need the most help!)
Chances are, you’ve seen a TV show in which it seem like getting representation implies guilt. But if you’re ever falsely accused of a crime in real life, you’ve never needed a lawyer more. For all intents and purposes, the legal justice system is like a dangerous foreign country — so you will need an experienced guide. As an innocent person, you may have no idea what’s going on, what to expect, or how to handle the many obstacles that will be thrown in your path. You most likely aren’t equipped to represent yourself in court. So you’ll definitely need the help of an experienced professional if you don’t want to end up serving time for a crime you didn’t commit.
Don’t skimp on a lawyer.
If you are falsely accused of a crime and decide to proceed to trial, don’t skimp on a lawyer. This is not the time to save money. If your finances are tight, shop at discount stores and give up steak and wine–but don’t look for bargain legal counsel. You are going to need the best lawyer you can afford. The saddest part is, your choice may come down to going into debt or going to jail for something you didn’t do. If you simply cannot afford a lawyer, public defenders are an option but public defenders are overworked and have a lot of cases, and, like all people, the stress may get them looking for the easiest and fastest solution, which may be a plea bargain.
You’re not as alone as you think you are.
If you ever find yourself or a loved one falsely accused of a crime, you’ll probably feel alone and totally adrift. But keep in mind that more people than you would ever expect have found themselves in this situation. Unfortunately, an unwarranted sense of shame keeps most falsely accused individuals from sharing their stories. Don’t be afraid to do your own research on the subject of “false accusations” or to reach out to others who have been there. You will need to establish your own safety net of a very small number of individuals with whom you can confide. You are not alone. And the advice and experiences of others–especially during your ordeal–can be an invaluable resource.
Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster.
If the process of going to trial is financially costly, it’s every bit as brutal on your emotional reserves. Expect for everyone in the family to feel stress, fear, anger, and exhaustion (just to name a few) on a regular basis. And don’t worry–feeling this way is normal. There are not many resources available when you’re dealing with the wrongful prosecution of a loved one. You can never escape the stress and strain, and there are very few emotional outlets available to you. So be prepared and use the ones that you do have available.
You’ll find out who your true friends are.
If you are wrongfully accused of a crime, you’ll probably be surprised and saddened by the number of people in your life who don’t want to be involved. People whom you had considered to be friends may pull away, become distant, or even refuse to help. Unfortunately, many individuals may feel so awkward even approaching the topic that they avoid it, denying you the support you need so badly. Sadly other “friends” may assume that since you have been arrested, you are probably guilty. This can leave you bitterly disappointed by abandonment and betrayal. Don’t dwell on the loss, instead accept and be even more grateful to the ones who stuck by your side.
If you or someone dear to you is ever falsely accused, you’ll need all of the knowledge and resources you can possibly get your hands on. The thinking that the innocent have nothing to fear is not always true. The heaviest burden is on the defendant…whether the accusations are well-founded or not.
by: Michelle Gesse