It could happen to any one of us. A routine, typical gathering of friends, family and or neighbors over good food, libations or watching the fight could be the beginning of a tour of the dark side of the criminal justice system that could put you in the fight for your life! Proving that you are innocent and defending your name, honor and reputation--may cost you, not your false accuser, valuable time, stress, energy, and money. You will need to lawyer up and quickly!
Among other things, you will need a committed lawyer and a healthy bank account to beat protect yourself from such a situation. In this day of strategic planning few people, give much if any thought to what they should do (and not do) if they are falsely accused.
Most people have an “it’ll never happen to me” attitude but the truth is, there’s no way to know for sure what criminal justice landmines life might have in store—and it’s better to be prayed up and prepared!
I have listed 12 lessons that might make a significant difference if you or a loved one is ever falsely accused of a crime.
(1) Have an “arrest plan” in place…A contingency plan!
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 with arse in the wind and 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, being pulled over after a night of celebration or how you might respond if you received a phone call telling you that a family member or friend had been arrested.
That scenario may and will have a higher probability than many of those other situations that you have thought about and prepared. Likewise, it is wise to have this conversation with family, friends and your loved ones.
Maybe in not in such a formal setting like a family meeting it can be a topic of discussion at dinner or at a family gathering etc. about what they should do if they are ever arrested or interrogated by law enforcement officers, regardless of the reason.
(2) Be the first to call 911…The Best Call you will Ever make!
The person to call 911 is most always going to be considered the victim, regardless of the circumstances especially in a crime of violence and or assault. 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,” or being a “narc” the first person to call 911 is going to be treated as the victim, regardless of the facts or the truth.
Remember you are trying to preserve your freedom in a situation that may turn on you so quickly that you will be in amazement while you are being led away in cuffs! You always can meter your call to indicate you want to the situation to be deescalated and the police are the best to do so before it escalates.
Furthermore you may want to just feign the police involvement to keep those at bay or just to leave all together!
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. In reality at times race and gender do play a factor in who is characterized as a victim as well. And for all the bravado men who don’t want to characterize as a victim the complainant nomenclature works as well.
The so-called victim/complainant will receive support from victims’ advocates, the press, law enforcement, the community, etc., while you and your family are on your own to clear and defend your name.
Being the first to pick up the phone can save you an unimaginable amount of stress, time, notoriety, and money.
(3) Everyone involved has the right to remain silent.
Imagine the following scenario: Your significant other (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.
(4) Insist on a search warrant, even if you have nothing to hide.
“Can we search the house?” If you know that you have not committed any wrongdoing and have nothing to hide, you may be tempted to answer this question with a “yes.” You may reason that 'the more cooperative I am, the sooner this will be over.' Maybe the officers will even see that I’m innocent, and my family will never be bothered again.
Get that oft error laced and life changing for the worse impulse out of your head now! Insisting on the warrant is probably the smartest thing you can do. It can tell your lawyer what the police were looking for and if the search wasn’t executed properly, having the warrant might make whatever was found ineligible to be introduced as evidence.
Remember, it’s always best to have physical documentation when you’re dealing with the criminal justice system.
(5) 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.
(6) 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.
(7) Proving your innocence can come with a very high price tag…The necessary Evil of the Criminal Defense Lawyer!
Proceeding to trial can double or in some cases involving expert testimony triple your legal expenses and make 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 may have to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to prove that he has done nothing illegal. But unfortunately, sometimes that’s reality.
(8) 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.
(9) Don’t go cheap on a lawyer.
If you are falsely accused of a crime and decide to proceed to trial, don’t go cheap on a lawyer. This is not the time to save money.
When your life and standard of living is on the line/in jeopardy you don’t want a cheap lawyer you want a top notch experienced, credentialed lawyer –who are because of their experience and reputation and skill tend to be expensive. Look at what you tend to lose if the criminal case is not resolved in your favor-your liberty, freedom, life as you know it, convenience of living your life, your job, future job prospects, family time, community reputation, ability to vote, ability to receive scholarships to further and or enhance your education and your privacy will be affected by jail/prison time or a lengthy, expensive, overbearing probationary period of time. If your finances are tight, start shopping at discount stores and give up steak and wine--but don’t look for bargain legal counsel. This sacrifice won’t be forever, put the legal challenge behind you and rebuild your life and to be able to do so-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.
(10) 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.
Even your lawyer can be a person to discuss the unknowns, anxieties and scenarios of the case and family. An experienced lawyer has seen and experienced your situation or something close to it time after time. Your legal counsel (who is indeed a counselor) would and should give you the information, options and case strategy to calm your fears, doubts as to the unforeseen. Again you are not alone, at worst its you and your lawyer teamed up to seek, find and make sure justice is done! In criminal defense situations sometimes the road travelled is better with two that with an entourage!
(11) 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.
(12) 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.
CONCLUSION: 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.