We’ve all seen crime dramas in which the suspect swears he’s innocent. Over the course of the show, evidence will point either toward his alibi or his guilt. We may empathize with these figures, not realizing that one day we might experience their very predicament.
If you’ve ever been accused of a crime you didn’t commit, you’ve had dozens of thoughts run through your head. You wondered what the next steps would be, and how to navigate the stressful experience of undergoing searches and interrogations.
It’s vital that you stay careful and compliant during these procedures. Knowing what to do if it ever happens to you may make the difference for dodging a wrongful conviction.
Contact Your Attorney Immediately
The first thing you should do when accused of a crime is to contact your attorney. Don’t say anything to anyone else except that you need to speak to a criminal defense lawyer.
If you can’t afford one, a county attorney will be appointed to you at no charge. You might even qualify for a pro bono (free of charge) private attorney.
If at all possible, though, you should retain a professional private attorney who has solid experience in these matters. County defense attorneys do the best they can, but they’re overworked and underpaid, and this often leads to sub-par representation.
If they’re going up against a sharp prosecutor, you’ll have a difficult time proving your innocence in court.
Some law enforcement professionals may try to cut a “deal” with you if you promise not to call your attorney. But if you’re truly innocent, accepting any kind of deal without an attorney present to represent your interests could incriminate you for something you didn’t do.
If you remember only one thing from this article, this should be it. The law can’t force you to talk, and you have every right to consult with an attorney and have him or her present during questioning by the authorities.
As your Miranda rights put it, “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Heed that message and wait for your attorney.
Staying silent is not an admission of guilt. It simply protects you from committing a costly mistake. If you make a statement based on faulty memory, that statement will be recorded as the truth, and it becomes difficult to renege.
Don’t Submit to a Search without a Warrant
According to criminal law, your property cannot be searched without a warrant present. Sometimes, police officers will ask you to allow them willingly to search your property.
If you do so, anything they find can be used against you in a court of law. You might think that compliance will make you look better when it comes time for trial.
But you can’t rule out the possibility that someone planted evidence, no matter how unlikely that is. Something ostensibly harmless might also turn up as evidence against you as well.
If law enforcement officials are able to obtain a search warrant, you’ll have to take your chances. However, sometimes there’s not enough evidence against you to merit a warrant.
You might be able to avoid a personal invasion by demanding a warrant before anything else happens.
Don’t Presume “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”
The national justice system in the U.S. is very good, but it’s not perfect. Law enforcement does its best to avoid arresting innocent people, but anyone can make a mistake. Sometimes, evidence is stacked against you, even if it’s not what it appears.
If you end up in the system, you’ll probably see it in a different light eventually. Court dockets are often backlogged, and county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are underfunded and overworked.
This often leads to greater interest in pushing a case along than in identifying the truth. Maintain your innocence, and don’t sign a plea bargain that states otherwise.
If you admit guilt to reduce your sentence or avoid jail time, this will still go on your permanent record and make it difficult to lead a normal life after that.
Being accused of a crime is a terrible experience, but taking the right steps will protect you from potentially long-lasting consequences.