Have you been charged with a crime that you did not commit? You can’t sit back and assume that all of the facts will work their way out and the charges will be dropped. You need to take a proactive stance and fight back.
The Sad State of Wrongful Charges and Convictions
When John Jerome White was just a teenager, a Georgia judge gave him a 40-year life sentence for breaking into the home of a 74-year-old woman and raping her. The only problem was that he didn’t have anything to do with the crime – he wasn’t even there. And it wasn’t until 29 years later that DNA testing was able to prove his innocence and exonerate him.
Sadly, White’s story isn’t an anomaly. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 2,932 Americans have been wrongfully convicted and set free over the past few years. But those are just the ones we know about. Sample data tells us that there are currently thousands of men and women serving time who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.
Wrongful charges might seem innocent enough from the outside looking in, but when it’s your own case, there’s no margin for error. Wrongful charges can easily turn into wrongful convictions, which can have a negative and lasting impact on both the individual and their family.
The big-picture goal is obviously to fix the system. But if you’re the one facing a charge, your only goal is to let the truth be known.
What to Do If You’re Wrongfully Charged
Whether it’s a small crime that simply threatens your reputation, or a serious crime that could put you behind bars, here are several steps you can take if you’re wrongfully charged of a crime that you did not commit:
- Use Your Right to Remain Silent
When you’re arrested or placed into custody in relation to a charge or accusation, law enforcement is required to read you your Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights. Among other things, this gives you the right to remain silent and the right to hire a lawyer and have them be present with you during questioning. Always use this right.
People often think they’re doing themselves a favor by opening up and talking – particularly when they have nothing to hide – but words have a way of getting even the most innocent person in trouble. And when they’re on the record, they’re impossible to take back.
You can stop any line of questioning or interrogation with four simple words: “I want a lawyer.” Say these magic words and you’ll avoid a lot of pain.
- Hire an Attorney
As mentioned, you also have the right to an attorney. Sadly, this is a right a lot of innocent people forgo. After all, won’t the truth come out in a trial?
“If you think our legal system is really about innocent until proven guilty, you’re falling right into their trap,” criminal defense attorney Rowdy G. Williams says. “That might have been the way our judicial system started. But in criminal cases today, it’s basically guilty until proven innocent. You have to show up to court ready to fight for your rights.”
Without an attorney, you have to prove your innocence on your own. And unless you’re smarter than a bunch of attorneys and judges on the opposite bench, this usually doesn’t end well,
- Gather Evidence
When awaiting your trial, work with your attorney to quickly and thoroughly gather as much evidence as you possibly can. This may include physical evidence, digital evidence, or even contact information and statements from witnesses. You’ll need as much of this as you can get.
- Avoid These Mistakes
Finally, there are several mistakes that you want to avoid as you deal with your wrongful charge. This includes:
- Never destroy any evidence that you think might hurt you. This could result in more charges and more suspicion.
- Never talk to the victim about the case.
- Never voluntarily submit to any form of testing or searches (including DNA tests or searches of your property) without first consulting with your attorney.
Putting it All Together
Being falsely accused of a crime is never a good thing. But if you know how to respond in a swift and appropriate manner, you give yourself a much better chance of proving your innocence. Remember that it all starts with keeping your mouth shut and hiring a good attorney. If you follow this advice right from the start, you’ll put yourself in a better position than most.