Although the justice system in the United States is generally well organized and fair, there are a still a number of cases each year that involve innocent people being accused or convicted of crimes. According to a May 2018 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, the rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2 percent and 10 percent.
“Innocent people are often wrongly accused of crimes,” a representative from Hand Law, a criminal lawyer in Denver, Colorado, that specializes in defending individuals falsely accused of crimes says. “Too often merely being charged can turn someone’s life upside down — jobs are lost, or families divided, even in minor cases. People who are falsely charged can suffer from depression. It can take a toll on their mental health.”
The reasons that people are falsely accused of serious crimes are complex. Maybe you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or perhaps people you associate with were involved. There is also evidence that race plays a role in wrongful crime accusations. According to a 2017 study conducted on race and wrongful convictions at the University of Michigan Law School, African Americans make up the majority of innocent defendants who are wrongly accused and convicted on crimes.
If you have been falsely charged with a crime, here are some ideas you can use to begin the process of exonerating yourself and getting your life and mental health back on track.
Hire a Qualified Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hiring a qualified lawyer who has experience defending people who have been falsely accused of a crime should be your first move. Knowing that you are in good hands will help alleviate your stress and anxiety. A good lawyer may also be able to help keep you from losing your job and might be able to work out a deal to keep you from going to prison in cases where the charges against you are serious.
Seek Support From Friends and Family
Being falsely accused of a serious crime can have repercussions that can include job loss, losing friends and other important relationships, losing custody of your children, depression, anxiety and insomnia. During this difficult time it is important that you take care of yourself and seek support from close friends and family.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Do what you can to avoid using drugs or alcohol as a way of making yourself feel better. In many cases, substance use can make your situation worse. And in some states, people accused of crimes may be ordered by the court to abstain from alcohol completely. There is also some evidence that people who use drugs and alcohol when they are under a lot of stress are more likely to develop an addiction.
Be Up Front With Your Employer
If might seem counterintuitive to let your employer know that you’ve been accused of a crime, but chances are that the company you work for will find out about the charges whether you tell them or not. If your employer discovers that you have been accused of a serious crime before you let them know, the odds that you will lose your job are much higher. Although it might be difficult, telling your employer what’s going on up front will help alleviate your stress.
Schedule a meeting with your boss or human resources department to explain your situation and let them know about any upcoming court dates you will need to attend. Depending on the severity of the charges, it might be helpful to have your lawyer attend the meeting with you.
Consider Seeing a Therapist or Joining a Support Group
It is important for you to keep your spirits up while you fight the false charges that have been leveled against you. If you find yourself feeling depressed, staying at home rather than participating in social activities, or avoiding your friends and family, it might be a sign that you need to see a therapist or join a support group to talk about your feelings.
While most therapists charge an hourly fee, participating in a support group is generally free. A support group setting will allow you to meet other people who are in situations similar to your own and who might be able to offer you helpful advice.
Support groups can sometimes be found through churches and other religious institutions, nonprofit organizations, and community centers.