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I was accused of a crime I didn’t commit. What are my rights?

Police and those who serve in our legal and justice systems do their best job to keep law and order in our communities. But, like any job, mistakes can happen. These mistakes can have dire consequences when they result in falsely accusing an innocent person of a crime. The following will provide some basic information to help you have a better understanding of your rights when in this type of situation.

What are my rights if the police stop me?  

The false accusation often begins with a stop. Three of the more common ways police may conduct a stop are either in person, at your home or while you are in a vehicle. In any of these situations, you have the right to remain silent. If you choose not to answer the police’s questions, simply state, “I choose to remain silent.” It is also important to note that you do not need to consent to the police conducting a search. In most cases if the police do not have a warrant, they cannot conduct the search. You can decline a request to search your body, your phone, your car, or your home.

If the police are not arresting you, you generally have the right to leave. Ask if you are free to go. If they state you are, do so slowly and calmly.

If the contact results in an arrest, you have the right to legal representation. Ask for an attorney, and refrain from speaking to the police until your lawyer is present.

What happens if the police think I committed a crime?

The police may arrest you. At that point, the police will put together a report for the prosecutor’s review. This report includes the information the police used to justify the arrest. The case will then generally progress in one of three ways. Either the prosecutor will use this information to decide whether or not the accused can be charged with a crime, present the information to a grand jury and let them decide whether or not to move forward with criminal charges or decide the matter is not worth pursuing and toss the case out.

The law refers to the second process, the use of a grand jury, as an indictment. The grand jury is similar to the regular jury often portrayed on television dramas but is generally conducts matters behind closed doors and has only one focus. Instead of determining whether or not the accused is guilty, the grand jury determines whether or not there is enough evidence to file criminal charges. It is also larger than a typical jury. A regular jury can have as few as 6 jurors while a grand jury may have as many as 23.  

After this is complete, a judge will conduct a hearing to determine whether or not the case can move forward. You continue to have legal rights throughout the entire process. If you are facing criminal charges, it is wise to act to protect your interests. Defenses are available and will vary depending on the details of the allegations.

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