I’ve been falsely accused of a crime – what do I do?

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For most people, being accused of and charged with a crime is one of the most scary, stressful things that can happen.  But what if you’re accused of a crime, and perhaps even charged with one, and you are totally innocent?  Sadly, this happens. 

The criminal justice system is founded upon the belief that witnesses will truthfully report what occurred.  When a witness testifies in court, he or she is placed under oath by a judge or bailiff before offering any testimony.  Typically the judge will have the witness raise his or her right hand and ask “do you swear or affirm under penalties for perjury that the testimony you give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” or something similar.  The point of this oath is to impress upon the person the significance of telling the truth in a proceeding which could deprive someone of life or liberty. 

In a perfect world, every witness would tell the truth.  After all, how well can the system operate if that fundamental expectation is not met?  But common sense and experience tell us that witnesses are occasionally untruthful.  During the course of trial, for example, two witnesses may tell completely contradictory stories as to what happened.  One of them has to be lying, and it is up to the finder of fact (judge or jury) to determine who to believe.  If the factfinder gets it wrong, an innocent person is potentially convicted of and sentenced for something the person didn’t do. 

But false accusations begin long before a trial is underway.  In most cases, a victim or a witness makes a report of a crime to police.  The police then commence an investigation before turning their findings over to a prosecutor for review.  Based on the information the prosecutor receives from police, the prosecutor decides what (if any) charges to file.  In many cases, like sex crimes offenses or domestic violence crimes, there may be only the complaining witness who can offer evidence. 

Most people have likely heard of wrongful convictions later being discovered and overturned, and it is great that many people have benefitted from the later discovery of a wrongful conviction.  Many of these convictions are later set aside because DNA later exonerates the person who was convicted, or because a witness comes forward with information helping to prove that the person who was convicted was actually innocent.

Unfortunately, the number of innocent people who have had their convictions set aside is likely much smaller than the number of innocent people still sitting in prison or otherwise dealing with the consequences of a conviction when they did nothing wrong.  No system is perfect, and that is true of the criminal justice system. 

Cases most susceptible to the conviction of an innocent person are sex offenses, like rape or child molesting.  Many times, the only evidence in such a case is the testimony of the alleged victim.  Indiana law declares that the uncorroborated testimony of a single witness is sufficient evidence for a conviction, meaning the prosecutor could present only the testimony of the alleged victim and still obtain a conviction. 

While this makes sense from a practical standpoint, as there may be no other evidence in a given case, it also creates a situation where the conviction of an innocent person is more likely.  Research seems to suggest that the number of false reports of crimes like rape and child molestation are uncommon, but that is not the same as saying they are nonexistent.  And even if the number of false reports is small, the cost to the individuals falsely accused (and, perhaps, later convicted) is extraordinary.

If you are falsely accused of any crime, it is critical to secure representation as quickly as possible.  You and your attorney will work together to identify and obtain witnesses or evidence which may help disprove the allegations being made.  You will also seek to determine any potential motivation for the false reports, such as a custody battle or revenge, which may undermine the credibility of the person(s) making the false report. 

But sometimes this pre-charge investigation won’t be enough, as a prosecutor only needs probable cause to file criminal charges.  If charges are filed, you and your attorney will continue to fight to clear your name, perhaps all the way up to and including trial.  Given the stakes that are involved, it is imperative to be sure you have an experienced, dedicated criminal defense attorney on your side.  This attorney will advise, guide, and counsel you throughout the process, ensuring that you are in the best position possible to defend yourself from the false accusations. 

If you or someone you know are facing false accusations of a crime, give the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC a call today. We are available 24/7/365 at 317.870.0019 or by email at info@banksbrower.com.