Defendants who are falsely accused of crimes should take immediate steps to protect their rights. Criminal convictions carry serious penalties, including jail time and steep fines. With the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, defendants facing false accusations may be able to have the charges dropped or their sentence reduced. In addition to hiring the right lawyer, there are several things New Jersey defendants can do to prove their innocence when falsely accused of a crime.
What are the Constitutional Rights of Criminal Defendants?
Many criminal defendants’ rights can be found in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution. Perhaps the most well-known Fifth Amendment right is the right to remain silent; defendants in criminal cases may not be forced to speak. If a defendant chooses to speak, what they say may be held against them in court. Therefore, it is generally in a defendant’s best interest to remain silent and not talk to the police, even if falsely accused of a crime. Rather, defendants should request a lawyer and refuse to answer any questions without the lawyer present.
Criminal defendants have other rights under the Fifth Amendment as well, such as the right to receive a Miranda warning prior to custodial interrogation. Other Fifth Amendment rights include the right to not be tried twice for the same offense, otherwise known as double jeopardy, and the right to due process of law.
Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants have a right to a trial that is:
- Public. A public trial ensures that due process is carried out. With certain narrow exceptions, criminal cases are open to the public.
- By jury. Criminal defendants facing more than six months of jail time are generally entitled to have their case heard by a jury of their peers as opposed to a single judge.
- Speedy. Although open to interpretation on a case-by-case basis, defendants are entitled to have a speedy trial in accordance with limitations imposed by state statute.
The Sixth Amendment also guarantees criminal defendants the right to have assistance of counsel. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to him or her at the government’s expense. Additional rights under the Sixth Amendment include defendants’ rights to be informed of the charges filed against them; the right to compel witnesses to appear at trial; and the right to confront those witnesses, involving questioning by direct and cross-examination, at trial.
What are Some Types of False Accusations?
There are many crimes of which a defendant may be falsely accused, and several reasons why a false accusation would happen. Criminal defendants may face false accusations in connection with the following charges:
- DUI/DWI charges. Those who are charged with a driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense may show that the blood alcohol content (BAC) test or field sobriety tests were administered improperly. Police officers must follow the rules stated in the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code; if they do not, a defendant’s charges may be dismissed.
- Drug offenses. Under the Fourth Amendment, defendants have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures. Property that was searched or seized illegally may not be used to convict a defendant.
- Sex crimes. Defendants who are falsely accused of a sex crime such as sexual assault or criminal sexual assault may be able to claim several defenses, including that they were not with the victim at the time of the alleged crime or that the accuser consented to the sexual behavior.
- Violent crimes. Various defenses may be mounted against violent crimes such as battery, domestic violence, murder, and manslaughter, including self-defense, mistake of fact, and intoxication.
Why are People Falsely Accused of Crimes?
There are many reasons why people may be falsely accused of crimes. Some common ones include the following:
- Eyewitness misidentification. Eyewitnesses who are not sure about what they saw commonly misidentify defendants in police lineups or other identification methods. Over time, witnesses’ recollections may erode or change as well, leading to false identifications. Therefore, eyewitness testimony is generally considered unreliable.
- Misleading evidence. Circumstantial evidence such as being at the wrong place at the wrong time can lead a defendant to be falsely accused of a crime. Also, forensic evidence such as fingerprints, hairs, and DNA are not always accurate. Many defendants have been wrongly accused and even convicted of crimes they did not commit based on shoddy forensics.
- Intentional false accusations. Sometimes, accusers make malicious false accusations. Often, the accuser is someone the accused knows. The accuser may have a personal reason for attempting to get the defendant in trouble. Defendants who are victims of such intentional false accusations may not only be able to avoid a conviction but may also file a civil suit for malicious prosecution.
- Police misconduct. A new study by the National Registry of Exonerations shows that 54 percent of wrongfully convicted defendants were victims of official misconduct by police and/or prosecutors. The study cites witness tampering, misconduct during interrogations, evidence fabrication, concealment of exculpatory evidence, and misconduct at trial as the most common types of misconduct. In these cases, falsely accused defendants may claim police misconduct as a defense; they may also file suit to protect their civil rights.
How can Wrongfully Accused Defendants Build a Strong Defense?
Those who are wrongfully accused may build a strong defense with a qualified criminal defense lawyer. In New Jersey, there are three different types of crimes: indictable crimes, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses.
- Indictable crimes. In New Jersey, indictable crimes are those that would be considered felonies in other states. They are separated into first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree crimes based on the seriousness of the crime and the corresponding penalties. For example, first-degree crimes are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $200,000 fine, whereas fourth-degree crimes carry a prison sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $10,000. With a strong defense, a falsely accused defendant may be able to avoid or mitigate these penalties.
- Disorderly persons offenses. Lower-level offenses such as simple assault, possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, and shoplifting are considered disorderly persons offenses. Considered misdemeanors in other states, disorderly persons offenses can result in up to six months’ jail time and a fine of up to $1,000. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to help criminal defendants falsely accused of disorderly persons offenses avoid conviction and therefore avoid having a permanent criminal record.
- Petty disorderly persons offenses. Although it is the lowest level criminal charge in New Jersey, petty disorderly persons offenses can subject defendants to a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and a permanent criminal record. Having a strong criminal defense can help falsely accused defendants avoid these consequences.
Anyone who is falsely accused of a crime may be able to prove their innocence by assisting his or her lawyer with their case. To that end, defendants may take several steps, including the following:
- Remain silent and do not answer questions without a lawyer present.
- Gather supporting evidence such as physical items, emails, or documents to support the defense.
- Make a list of potential witnesses along with contact information.
- Cooperate in the investigation.
- Remain open and honest with legal counsel so they may properly evaluate the case and construct the best criminal defense strategy.
Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for the Rights of Those Falsely Accused
If you were falsely accused of a crime, it is vital to have a strong criminal defense lawyer by your side throughout the legal process to ensure your rights are protected. The Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law are available to assist those accused. Our experienced and dedicated legal team may be able to help you obtain a favorable outcome in your case. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.