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What can you do if you are falsely accused of a crime?

Roughly 10,000 people are wrongfully convicted of crimes each year in the United States. This issue is a divisive topic that criminal justice reformers across the nation are trying to fix.

However, many of these situations start with a false accusation. The reasons for false accusations vary significantly, though they usually revolve around fear. But what can individuals do if they face allegations of a crime they did not commit?

1. Do not avoid the accusation—take action

Dealing with a false accusation can be frightening. No one expects to face a situation like this in their lifetime.

Many people might believe that if they are innocent, they should not have to endure police questions or investigations. Unfortunately, avoiding a false accusation will not make it disappear. 

If someone faces a wrongful accusation, it is in their best interests to:

  • Try and get ahead of the accusation, perhaps by filing a report of their own
  • Cooperate with the investigation within reason, but protect their rights
  • Be honest when speaking with investigators

2. Remember—and take advantage of—your rights

While it is crucial for individuals to cooperate, they also must remember and safeguard their rights. Everyone, no matter the situation or the accusation, has the right to:

  • Deny any searches of their property without a warrant
  • Review a search warrant and supervise any searches to protect their rights
  • Refuse to answer incriminating questions or speak to investigators without an attorney
  • Obtain legal representation

Consulting a defense lawyer does not indicate guilt, contrary to popular belief. Individuals have a right to legal representation, and exercising that right can make a considerable difference in the event of a false accusation. 

3. You can file a counterclaim of defamation

Even if the court finds the individual not guilty or the accuser drops the charges, a false accusation can still jeopardize someone’s life and future as much as any criminal conviction. There is a stigma surrounding criminal charges, even if they are untrue.

Fortunately, individuals can file a claim against anyone who falsely accused them. A false accusation is a defamation after all, which can harm someone’s:

  • Personal and professional image
  • Educational or professional opportunities

And filing a defamation claim could help individuals recover financial compensation for the damages a false accusation caused.

Remember: Innocent until proven guilty

It may not feel like it when facing criminal charges, but the courts must have the assumption that individuals are innocent until the prosecution proves guilt. However, it is just as important for individuals to remember this factor as well. It may be scary to deal with a false accusation, but it is critical that they maintain their innocence to protect their future.