What to Do if You Are Accused of a Crime You Did Not Commit

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Finding yourself suddenly accused of a crime you did not commit is a scary and confusing place to be. You may find yourself unsure of how to combat the unjust accusation you are suffering from. You are not alone. The Innocence Project reports that 2%-5% of people serving time in prison are actually innocent, equivalent to around 40,000 people out of the 2 million people incarcerated on average. While The Innocence Project and other organizations are working to clear the names of the wrongfully convicted, it would be better to avoid convicting the wrong party in the first place.

It’s important to remember that just because you have been accused, arrested, or charged with a crime does not mean your guilt has been established.

Being arrested or charged with a crime simply means you will have to prove your innocence in court, which can be an understandably stressful process especially if you have not committed a crime at all.

Here are some important things to remember if you find yourself accused of a crime you did not commit:

  • You have the right to an attorney. You have a constitutional right to speak with an attorney or have an attorney present before speaking with law enforcement. There are many benefits to having an attorney present when dealing with law enforcement, as your civil rights are guaranteed to be more likely protected. In fact, if law enforcement refuses to let you contact an attorney for legal counsel, their evidence against you may no longer be eligible for use in court.
  • Do not make any statements to anyone. You may have heard that you have the right to remain silent, which is where this reminder comes in. You never need to respond to questioning by law enforcement. If you have been accused of a crime you didn’t commit, it can be tempting to try to convince law enforcement of your innocence, but you could accidentally make a statement that could later be used against you. It’s important to note that this applies to anyone, not just law enforcement. Do not make any statements regarding the situation or the accusation against you to anyone, and especially not over social media. Anything you say can be used against you in ways you might not expect.
  • Ask to see a search warrant before allowing your property to be searched. If law enforcement tries to search your vehicle, home, or property, you do not need to let them do so unless they can produce a search warrant for you to review first. A search warrant is a warrant signed by a judge which will explain in specific detail what the officers are allowed to search.
  • Do not confront the person who accused you. False accusations can incite strong feelings in both parties, so it’s wise to avoid confronting or even communicating with the person who accused you at all costs. Even if you feel that your accuser may be willing to have a cooperative, calm conversation about the misunderstanding, it is unwise to pursue any type of communication with that person, no matter how brief you think it may be. Additionally, you never know when an accuser may lash out or behave in a way that could incite you to lash out, since you are likely already frustrated by the situation.
  • Gather evidence and witness information to support your alibi. If you have been accused of a crime you didn’t commit, it’s a good idea to immediately begin collecting evidence to support your alibi and prove your innocence. Even if you aren’t certain that the person who accused you is actually going to pursue legal action against you, it’s wise to be prepared. Any evidence or witness testimony that can prove you were elsewhere or otherwise occupied when the supposed crime occurs should be recorded and preserved in a safe place where it cannot be lost or deleted.
  • Do not make public efforts to defend yourself. Although tempting, this reminder goes along with the advice to avoid making statements. It may be tempting to go to the media, social or otherwise, and defend yourself and your reputation, but any efforts you make to defend yourself can be used against you in court.
  • Record your alibi in writing. Just because you shouldn’t make a statement to anyone else, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t record the facts of your innocence. It’s a good idea to write down all the facts of the situation you know and record in writing the proof of your innocence and alibi. This could later support your case in court.
  • Retain a criminal defense attorney. It’s wise to retain a criminal defense attorney to protect your innocence and handle your case. Any situation involving potentially severe legal consequences should be handled with appropriate caution and care, which should include hiring a professional familiar with cases like yours to prove your innocence and protect you from the possibility of a wrongful conviction.

There are a variety of common causes for false accusations and convictions, including eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated evidence (i.e. evidence gained through forensic science), false confessions, police misconduct, and “snitch” testimony. While it can be extremely disconcerting if not outright scary to find yourself accused of a crime you didn’t commit, it’s important to remember to stay calm and follow the advice of legal counsel as you seek to clear your name and protect yourself and your family from the consequences of wrongful conviction.

Written by AskTheLawyers.com on behalf of Merrida Coxwell with Coxwell & Associates, P.L.L.C.