Many people think that the protections of the legal system are enough to keep an innocent person from being convicted of a crime. However, the mere fact that an innocent person is in the court system is a large problem in itself. They are subject to an extreme amount of pressure and stress. They must also expend large amounts of money on legal defense. Any time that someone is in the legal system, there is a risk of conviction and jail time. If you have been charged with a crime that you did not commit, you need an attorney immediately.
The Legal Requirement of Probable Cause
When prosecutors file charges, they are not required to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. That is what they have to do in front of a jury. To charge or arrest someone, prosecutors must establish probable cause. This legal term means that a reasonable person would believe that a crime was committed.
Probable cause can be established in a number of ways. It can be based on:
- A preliminary investigation by law enforcement
- An investigation by a grand jury
- An affidavit from a police officer or a third person about what they have witnessed
Probable cause is based on the totality of the circumstances at the time that the arrest was made or the charges were filed. In other words, it is about what the officers knew at the time. Police officers or law enforcement are not always right. They can be wrong for a number of reasons, whether it is because they did not do their job properly or they just plain made an error.
Police officers may make an initial arrest based on a report that they receive from a witness. There are multiple risks of mistaken identification. First, the person who reports the allegations to the police may have been wrong. They may not have described the person correctly. Then, the police need to apprehend the right person. They may stop the wrong person and arrest them. Regardless, there are many people who are arrested on the basis of mistaken identification. The problem is that you must still go through the legal process, and there is a risk that you could still be convicted.
Witness accounts play a large role in law enforcement arrests. Some witnesses may have their own motives at work. For example, people involved in a divorce or custody dispute could face false allegations of domestic or child abuse. Others may simply be out for revenge and are willing to make false accusations, regardless of the penalties that they may face.
Regardless, you may end up in the criminal justice system even if you are falsely accused. Especially in cases that involve abuse allegations, law enforcement may arrest someone first and ask questions later. Then, you would have to fight to clear your name.
An arrest is often based on evidence besides the testimony. For example, some arrests for alleged sexual assault are based on DNA evidence. OUI arrests are based on a breathalyzer or chemical test. In many cases, the test results alone support the finding of probable cause.
However, there may be a number of problems with forensic evidence. The most obvious issue is that the test results may not be completely accurate. Then, the testing mechanism could be flawed. For instance, the breathalyzer device could be miscalibrated. Alternatively, the evidence against you could be tainted because law enforcement did not establish a proper chain of custody. Nonetheless, you would need to fight the physical evidence at trial to prove that it is faulty.
Law Enforcement Overreach
Remember that being innocent does not necessarily mean that you did not do what law enforcement has alleged. You can be innocent when your legal rights have been violated. For example, if police officers have wrongfully searched and seized evidence from you, they do not have the physical evidence to convict you. In other words, you are innocent under the law. In their zeal to make an arrest, police officers may wrongfully detain or search you. Even if they had probable cause to execute a search, they might have gone overboard in the evidence that they seized.
Pressure on Prosecutors
Prosecutors have the highest legal obligations in their jobs. Your freedom, and to an extent your life, are in their hands. While they have broad prosecutorial discretion, they must use it very carefully.
The reality is that prosecutors are human beings facing their own job pressures. If they are an elected official, they need to create the impression that they are for law and order and tough on crime. If they are unelected, they still want good performance reviews and to advance their own career. They often face immense pressure to make arrests, especially when the case is in the news media.
Whatever the reason, prosecutors may err on the side of filing charges if there is any doubt. While they may later drop the charges, it does not cost them anything to file them in the first place. They are not the ones whose lives are disrupted. Unfortunately, the system results in many innocent people being charged. While you have every right to be angry, you must also not let your anger distract you from fighting the charges.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Even if you are innocent, you would still face a high degree of risk in the legal system. Innocent people do get convicted of crimes that they did not commit. You still need an experienced and aggressive attorney to advise you of your legal options and fight the charges against you. The attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff will leave no stone unturned in your legal defense. You can message us online or call us today at (920) 450-9800 to schedule your free initial consultation. Regardless of whether the charges are proper, you must still have someone to stand up for your legal rights.