Wrongfully Accused: Here's What to Do if You're Accused of a Crime You Didn't Commit

by Sandy Hess
Police officer interrogating suspect or criminal man with handcuffs arrested at the investigation

Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.

Being accused of a crime can be extremely stressful and confusing — especially if it’s a crime you didn’t commit. You should not take the matter lightly: wrongful conviction statistics show that anywhere from 4% to 6% of people in jail are wrongfully incarcerated.

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To avoid this type of injustice, it’s important to know exactly what to do if the police question or arrest you for a crime you didn’t commit. 

What Should You Do If You're Questioned by Police for a Crime You Did Not Commit?

The police want to ask you a few questions. What should you do?

It might seem like a good idea to just answer a few questions. After all, you’re innocent. However, you could inadvertently provide the police with information they could use against you later.

While the police can ask you questions about an active investigation, you’re not legally required to answer. You have the right to remain silent or ask for a lawyer. Keep in mind that the police generally aren't required to advise you of these rights unless you're arrested. 

Be aware that the police don't have to disclose that you're a suspect. Even if you haven't been accused, it's smart to speak with a lawyer before answering any questions.

You also don't have to consent to a search of your home, car or other property. If the police ask to conduct a search without a warrant, you should calmly refuse and contact an attorney immediately.

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What Should You Do If You're Charged With a Crime You Did Not Commit?

If you believe you’re a suspect in a crime you didn’t commit, contact an attorney as soon as possible.

If you’ve already been arrested, there are several things you should do.

Stay Calm

If you’re arrested before you’ve had time to talk to an attorney, the most important thing you can do is remain calm. Don’t resist. This will only make matters worse and add to your charges.

Remain Silent

After your arrest, the police officers may try to question you again. Under no circumstances should you answer any questions before talking to an attorney. Under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to remain silent. In most circumstances, police are required to advise a person who's in custody of their Miranda rights before questioning.

Instead of answering any questions, immediately ask for a lawyer. The minute you tell the officers you want to talk to an attorney, they must stop asking you questions.

Retain an Attorney

If you haven’t already, now is the time to get an attorney. Your attorney can represent you through your first arraignment and any bail hearing you might have. They'll also help you prepare for trial and represent you in court.

Collect Evidence

In the United States, the law states that you’re innocent until proven guilty. However, the more evidence you have that can prove your innocence, the better things will go in court. Be sure to provide your attorney with as many details as possible.

What Should You Do If You're Convicted of a Crime You Did Not Commit?

Being convicted of a crime can be devastating for the entire family. When convicted of a crime you didn’t commit, you can feel angry, depressed and helpless. Don’t give up. There are still things you can do to clear your name.

Appeal the Court's Decision

If you've been wrongly convicted, the first thing you should do is work to appeal the court decision. You only have a short period of time to file an appeal, so it’s important to speak to your attorney as soon as possible.

There are several reasons you might be able to win an appeals case, including:

  • Jury misconduct
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Legal error
  • Constitutional violation
  • Evidentiary issues
  • New evidence

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What Resources Are Available for Wrongfully Accused Individuals?

There are several organizations that work to help the wrongly convicted fight for justice. You can contact any of the organizations below to find out if you qualify for their services.

Innocence Project

The Innocence Project has helped hundreds of people facing wrongful incarceration find freedom. It helps inmates who were wrongfully convicted conduct DNA testing to prove their innocence.

Legal Aid Society

The Wrongful Conviction Unit of the Legal Aid Society handles cases involving wrongful convictions. This organization can help those wrongfully convicted file an appeal, an application for clemency and commutation or a request for their records to be sealed.

Centurion

Centurion has been handling wrongful conviction cases since 1983. They investigate cases, searching for lost or new evidence, false confessions and witness tampering and conduct DNA testing. These investigations have helped more than 70 wrongfully convicted people find justice.

Local Organizations

Law schools, legal clinics and other local organizations also sometimes offer services to the wrongfully convicted. 

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