Sometimes a person is accused of something he/she did not do. Once the falsehood is out there, it is very difficult to erase it. When one person makes a false accusation against another, the result can be devastating. Just the simple accusation of a crime can have a damaging effect on the accused even when innocent.
Unfortunately, false accusations happen all the time and they are extremely damaging to both the individual as well as the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, many people are convicted when they did not commit the crime they are accused of. False accusations diminish resources that should be handling legitimate cases. Lies also affect police resources when officers are called for a fraudulent reason and spend time arresting, booking, and transporting an accused person who did nothing wrong.
When you are falsely accused of a crime, it’s critical that you have legal representation you can trust to work on your behalf. Don’t think because you are innocent, everyone will know that and it will be easy to prove. At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, your Raleigh criminal lawyers are experienced in fighting to clear your name and reputation. In this article, we shed light on what a false accusation is and how to go about defending yourself when you are the target.
How the Justice System Functions
Our entire justice system functions on the premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The system is devised to protect innocent people and punish those guilty of crimes. Therefore, when a person is accused of a crime, the court must consider the defendant to be innocent until it is proven otherwise by the prosecution. The onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt through physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses. And, it must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
What Not to Do When You Are Falsely Accused
Do not try to defend yourself even though every fiber of your being is telling you it’s OK to defend yourself because you are innocent. It is easy to accidentally make the situation worse and put your case in jeopardy by attempting to act in your own defense. Try to remain calm and follow these suggestions:
- Do not talk to the alleged victim.
- Do not talk about the alleged victim.
- Do not talk about the accusations to others.
- Do not post on social media about the situation.
- Make your social media private and do not accept new requests.
- Do not answer a law enforcement agent’s questions.
- Do not let the police into your home or vehicle without a warrant.
- Retain a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Can You Sue A Person for Making False Accusations?
You can pursue a lawsuit against a person who has made false accusations about you by either suing for defamation or for malicious prosecution.
Defamation has occurred when a person makes a false statement that harms your reputation. This intentional false communication can be either written or spoken and results in one or both of the following:
- Decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held.
- Induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
In order to sue for defamation based on false accusations of a crime, you need to show that:
- Someone made a false statement of fact to a third party.
- The statements were not privileged. For example, if someone testifies under oath that you committed a crime, this is a privileged statement and cannot be grounds for a defamation case. Statements made in court proceedings are privileged.
- The person who made the false accusation was negligent in determining if it was true and you are a private figure (not a public figure).
- Your reputation has been harmed in some way as a result of the false statements.
Punitive damages can be awarded, along with payment for missed or lost business opportunities, lost earning power, emotional damage, and any medical bills you may incur due to treatment from the impact of the false accusations.
You may be able to file a lawsuit against someone for malicious prosecution only if the false accusations actually resulted in a criminal or civil case being initiated against you. To sue for malicious prosecution, you need to show that:
- The defendant made false accusations that resulted in a prosecutor pressing criminal charges against you OR the defendant filed a civil lawsuit against you based on the false accusations.
- The criminal or civil case was resolved in your favor.
- There was no probable cause for the defendant you are suing to have made the false accusations.
- Your reputation was damaged by the false accusations.
- The defendant acted with malice or intent to harm. Usually, this can be proven by showing he/she falsely accused you without probable cause.
You can be compensated for the costs of defending yourself against the criminal and civil charges in addition to lost wages or business opportunities, if your claim is successful. Punitive damages may also be awarded in a malicious prosecution lawsuit.
Pressing Charges When Someone Makes False Accusations
Pressing charges is different from suing someone. You sue by initiating the civil court proceedings yourself. But, you cannot initiate criminal proceedings–a government official must do that. Pressing charges against someone for making false accusations is done separately from suing them. In other words, when you press charges against someone for falsely accusing you, you are formally accusing that person of a crime in order for a prosecutor or district attorney to move forward with pursuing a criminal case if they believe the law has been broken and that there is enough evidence to convict.
Contact Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh
If you are falsely accused of a crime that you did not commit, you have recourse. When this happens, seek legal counsel as soon as possible in order to get advice and representation to save your reputation. Our lawyers in Raleigh are experienced and knowledgeable about the steps to take in repairing your character and making the perpetrator pay for any damage he/she has caused. Call or contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a free consultation at (919) 845-6688 or complete the contact form to speak to one of our attorneys today.