Whether you are under arrest or just under criminal investigation, knowing that you are facing untrue allegations makes the whole experience even more scary and frustrating.
It could be someone with a grudge against you, someone looking to elude criminal consequences, or bad law enforcement work, but wrongful arrests and false accusations happen all the time. And many people end up in prison because of it.
The possibility of facing false accusations is why it is essential that you know what to do if you find yourself under these circumstances. You have rights, and you can use them. These include:
Knowing when to assert these rights will make a big difference in how your case unfolds.
The top mistake that many people make when they are arrested, investigated, or asked to “just answer a few questions” is say anything other than “I want an attorney.” Even if you know you are wrongfully accused, police and prosecutors can use anything you say against you.
An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to handle these situations and can give you advice about which questions you should and shouldn’t answer.
You can either find your own attorney, or if you find that you can’t afford an attorney, you will receive the services of a public defender, who will protect your rights.
Besides giving your name and asking for an attorney, you do not have to answer any questions. Do not assume that you can talk your way out of anything. Law enforcement is skilled at asking questions to get the answers they want or trap you in a pattern of telling half-truths.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you against self incrimination. But even if you are being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, you do not have to answer questions.
The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures. That means — with few exceptions — police cannot just search you or your property any time they feel like it.
If police ask to search your home, or your car, you should insist on asking to see a search warrant first. Ask to actually see the document and that it’s been signed by a judge.
Even if you know that you are falsely accused of a crime, police may find something that could be used against you.
Even if you are being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, it is important to remain calm if police arrest you. Any sort of resisting (physical resistance like kicking or shoving) or attempting to flee (running or driving away from the scene or attempting to fly out of the country) will only hurt your case.
But remember, once you are arrested, you do not have to answer any questions. Even if your attorney thinks you should, you still don’t have to, although it is a good idea to listen to your attorney’s advice.
It is important that you are open with your attorney about everything related to your case. If you have any evidence that could benefit your case, talk to your attorney about it and make sure you maintain custody of it. These can include:
This is the case for every legal matter you may ever encounter: Do not talk about your case on social media, and do not discuss your case with outsiders. Just as saying anything to police may be used against you, this also applies to what you post on social media or tell a friend. You have no guarantee that law enforcement will not see your post or will not ask the person you talked to to tell them what you said.
In fact, it is best to remain off of social media entirely while your case unfolds. Even sharing a picture of you enjoying a nice day — even if you think it’s unrelated to your case — can be used to portray you in a certain way.
While you may think that your case is “open and shut” because you didn’t do anything, the system does not work that way.
Police will still want to investigate, look for evidence, and speak to other people. Your lawyer may need to conduct their own investigation to prove your innocence. These things take time. That could even mean weeks or months. It is important to stay calm and work with your attorney. Do not lose hope. Just remember to continually assert your rights.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense.