The American criminal justice system provides that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always matter. In some cases, people are convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. In fact, some people have served time on death row, only to later be exonerated.
According to the Innocence Project, DNA testing has led to the exoneration of 364 people in the United States, including 20 people who were sentenced to death prior to their exoneration. On average, the individuals exonerated through the use of DNA testing served 14 years in prison before being released.
Being falsely accused of a crime can be scary and overwhelming. In many cases, a person may wonder what kind of options they have after proving they never committed the crime. Here’s what you need to know after being exonerated for a crime in Texas, according to experienced criminal defense attorney John Helms.
Civil vs. Criminal Cases
When someone has been falsely accused of a crime, he or she may be able to collect monetary compensation from the person who falsely accused him or her. In some cases, the wrongly accused individual may also be able to obtain financial damages from law enforcement or a prosecutor’s office. However, these remedies are only available through the civil system.
If you’ve been accused of a crime you didn’t commit, you may be entitled to monetary damages pursuant to a civil claim under a theory of defamation, which is a statement that causes harm to an individual’s reputation. Generally, there are two types of defamation: libel and slander. Slander is spoken defamation and libel is defamation put in writing such as a newspaper article.
For example, a person who is falsely accused of committing a sexual assault may suffer serious harm to their reputation. In many cases, a false sexual assault allegation can cause a person to lose their job or suffer the loss of career opportunities. A made-up sexual assault charge may also cause damage to the falsely accused individual’s personal relationships. Additionally, defending yourself against a false charge can be costly and stressful.
In this type of case, the individual may be able to pursue a civil claim for defamation. If the false allegation was spoken, the person who was wrongly accused may have a claim for slander. If the defamation was put in writing, the proper claim is one for libel. The form of libel can be in any written format, as long as it was published. For example, a blog post or text could count as libel.
Defamation cases can be difficult to win as the Constitution gives broad protection to free speech. However, no one has a legal right to spread false information about another individual.
In some cases, a person who was falsely accused may receive compensation for the loss of their job, as well as damage to their reputation. Some courts may also award financial compensation for any humiliation or embarrassment the false accusation caused the person to suffer.
In some cases, the person who was wrongly accused may be able to file a claim in civil court for malicious prosecution. In a malicious prosecution case, the wrongly accused pursues monetary compensation from someone who filed false charges or caused the filing of false charges against them.
It’s important to note that the person or entity that filed the false charges must have known the charges were untrue at the time. If they genuinely believed that the accused committed a crime, the accused can’t later pursue a claim of malicious prosecution against them.
As with defamation, malicious prosecution can be difficult to prove in court, especially if you claim the prosecutor or law enforcement officials pursued charges against you while knowing they were false. It can be a challenge to prove what a person’s state of mind was at the time they filed a police report or pursued criminal charges against an individual.
On the other hand, there have been several high profile cases involving malicious prosecution. For example, the Duke Lacrosse players’ sexual assault scandal, which began in 2006 turned out to be a complete fabrication and every player was ultimately exonerated. In that case the prosecutor who brought the charges against the players was prosecuted and disbarred for knowingly bringing false charges.
What If You Haven’t Been Exonerated?
If you are facing charges for a crime in you didn’t commit, it’s in your best interest to speak to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible. Your lawyer will help you understand the criminal charges against you as well as what options are available to you going forward.
Being accused of any type of crime is a serious matter. A conviction can cost you your freedom, and defending yourself can put a strain on your finances and reputation. That is why it’s important to speak to a Texas criminal defense lawyer right away. Contact Attorney John Helms in Dallas to discuss your case, protect your freedom, and fight for your rights.
Attorney John Helms