It could happen. A witness makes a mistake. Evidence points in the wrong direction. Someone lies in order to protect himself. And you find yourself in the frightening position of being accused of a crime even though you’re innocent. What should you do if this happens to you or a loved one?
Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
If you are falsely accuse of a crime, the overwhelming temptation is to immediately explain yourself to the police–to tell your side of the story. Don’t do it. Absolutely everything you say to the police can be used against you. But what you don’t say can never be used. Your Constitutional right to remain silent exists at the very first stages of an investigation. The police must remind you of this right only if you are in custody and about to be questioned. So stay calm, be straightforward, and remain firm—don’t say anything.
Get an Attorney to Help You
If the police want to question you about a crime, you need a criminal defense attorney. Definitely. Don’t wait to contact one—do it right away. Experts agree that the innocent need an attorney as much as, or more than, the guilty do. In many cases, an attorney is brought in too late to be as useful as they could be had they been contacted earlier.
A trusted criminal defense attorney is an invaluable ally. They can advise you of your rights, determine exactly what charges might be filed, discover what evidence the police have, and explain all your options if a case proceeds. And remember that the attorney-client relationship is privileged: Feel free to talk about all aspects of your situation with your criminal defense attorney. The more they know, the better.
Additional Legal Advice
If you are falsely accused of a crime, gather any material you think can help demonstrate your innocence: emails, receipts, documents, phone records, and so on. Share it with your attorney. It’s also a good idea to draw up a list of witnesses who could help prove your position. And, if the situation warrants—if you are in a fight, for example, that might lead to a false accusation—being the first to call 911 will help your case.
What Not to Do
Do not tamper with or destroy any records or evidence you think looks bad. Doing so will only make your situation worse. Likewise, do not try to talk with the victim or accuser. This will likely hurt your case as well, perhaps quite seriously. You should also refuse to submit to any type of testing the authorities might ask of you until you’ve consulted a criminal defense attorney. And never allow the police to conduct a search without a warrant. Having one ensures that all parties are following the correct procedures.