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Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Nine Things I Wish I Had Known Before Being Falsely Accused

Michelle Gesse, whose husband was falsely accused of a felony, explains what all Americans need to know now about the criminal justice system.

BOULDER, Colo., Jan. 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Steven and Michelle Gesse thought that the small dinner party they hosted on April 5, 2009, would be a pleasant gathering over good food and good wine. Instead, it was the beginning of a nightmarish spiral into a confusing and frightening justice system that in practice, if not in theory,considers you to be guilty until proven innocent.

“During dinner that night, my husband, Steven, made an offhand comment that offended one of our guests,” recalls Michelle Gesse, author of the new book Bogus Allegations: The Injustice of Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Johnson Books, March 2012, ISBN: 978-1-55566-450-3, $17.95, www.michellegesse.com). “We were not even aware that she was offended since the remainder of the evening passed pleasantly.”

Later that night the Gesses were shocked when law enforcement officers arrived to arrest Steven and search their home. The son of the offended guest had falsely accused Steven of threatening him with a gun.

Over the next seven months, Steven was treated as a criminal whose guilt was already assumed.

On October 28, 2009, Steven Gesse was found not guilty of Felony Menacing and Prohibited Use of a Weapon. Yet being exonerated did not make up for the fact that he had been treated like a convicted felon. This unfairness set Michelle Gesse on a mission to spotlight the injustices of the American justice system — and to make people aware of what to do in case they are ever falsely accused.

Read on for nine lessons that Michelle Gesse has learned in the Criminal Justice School of Hard Knocks.

Have an “arrest plan” in place. Even if you believe it’s unlikely, think about what you would do if you or a loved one were arrested. If you don’t have any strategy or knowledge, you’ll be at the mercy of “the system.”

Be the first to call 911. If you find yourself in any sort of threatening situation, whether it’s with a family member, friend, coworker, or complete stranger, don’t hesitate. Call 911 first. Once you have been taken into custody, you have been classified as the perpetrator of the crime.

Everyone involved has the right to remain silent. Even if you aren’t the person being accused of a crime, exercise your right to remain silent. Don’t talk to anyone without a lawyer present.

Insist on a search warrant, even if you have nothing to hide. Squelch the impulse to be open and helpful, and don’t allow anyone to search your house without a warrant. It’s best to have physical documentation when you’re dealing with the criminal justice system.

Realize that the criminal justice system is hard on the innocent. The criminal justice system is a “flow system” that tries to dispose of as many cases as quickly as possible, often through plea bargains. “We ended up paying financially and emotionally for not playing the game the system’s way,” Gesse says.

Expect to be treated like you’re guilty. “Steven had to submit to random alcohol testing, had to meet with a drug counselor, couldn’t be in proximity to weapons, and couldn’t leave Colorado without special permission,” Gesse recalls.

Don’t skimp on a lawyer. You’ll need a lawyer if you don’t want to end up serving time for a crime you didn’t commit, and this is not the time to save money.

You’re not as alone as you think you are. Unfortunately, an unwarranted sense of shame keeps most falsely accused individuals from sharing their stories. Don’t be afraid to do your own research or to reach out to others who have been there.

You’ll find out who your true friends are. People whom you had considered to be friends may pull away, become distant, or even refuse to help. Others may assume that since you have been arrested, you are probably guilty.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to know the facts about the criminal justice system, and to think about what you would do if you or someone you love is ever falsely accused,” Gesse states. “Our country’s criminal justice system puts the heaviest burden on the defendant… whether the accusations are well-founded or not.”

About the Author:
Michelle Gesse is the author of Bogus Allegations: The Injustice of Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Johnson Books, March 2012, ISBN: 978-1-55566-450-3, $17.95, www.michellegesse.com.)

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