False Rape Accusations: Does the Stain Ever go Away?
My client looked at me with a tear in his eyes when we won his rape case at a preliminary hearing. “Henry” was going to be a free man and we hugged each other as he was eternally grateful but the reality is that his life of freedom would still end up being one that was a living hell. My client was innocent, in fact, the individual that lied about him rolled the dice on his future just because she could and the joy of the judge saying that his case would not be bound over to Circuit Court was soon be replaced with the horrors of what his life had become. The allegation against him was false but the pain of what he had endured at the hands of a liar with a motive to destroy him would never make up for what he lost.
After some time had passed, we kept in contact with each other. Henry was a good man but would forever be looked at in a different light. When asked about the experience, Henry somberly spoke of his ordeal: “She took everything from me. I lost my job when the prosecutor charged me. There was no physical evidence. There was no witness. There was nothing other than her word. We had been dating off and on for a couple of years and she wanted me to lend her money. She already had a history of not paying me back. This time I told her no and she told the police that I raped her. Despite the lack of evidence, I was still charged. I’m forever grateful that I am still a free man but what happened to me is something that I hope will never happen to anybody else. I can never truly get back to the place I was before the charge and the prosecutor just went on with his life like nothing happened.”
Is there anything that can be done about false allegations? How do we as a legal profession protect someone when the accusation is false and when it comes to Criminal Sexual Conduct cases (CSC), is the defendant presumed guilty before being proven innocent?
Scott Grabel of Grabel & Associates in Lansing, Michigan, has built a stellar reputation for his defense of those charged with CSC. Grabel, whom gained a great deal of well-deserved fame with the Zach Anderson case spoke of how to defend those false accused. Grabel stated, “Politics comes into play. One way to help a client that has been false accused is to have a textbook knowledge of the Michigan Rape Shield Law. In our state, Rape Shield is covered by MCL 750.520j. There are not a lot of statutes that a criminal defense lawyer needs to know by heart but Rape Shield is one that is a must. It can make the difference between freedom and incarceration.”
Ravi Gurumurthy, a criminal defense attorney in Cadillac, Michigan, has handled a number of CSC cases in his career. When asked about protecting one from a false accusation, Gurumurthy stated, “The one thing that people do not realize is they should have an attorney present when speaking to the police. Our firm finds that many defendants’ do not understand two key components. The first is that their silence can be used against them if they do not understand their 5th Amendment Rights. The second is that just because you are innocent of a crime that does not mean that you may not incriminate yourself. No matter what the situation, when your freedom is at risk, having counsel is not a luxury it is a necessity.”
Based on the current case law and statutes in Michigan, the law is mounted against a defendant. If the legislature were to place more risk on a prosecutor bringing a false charge, the game would be different but the reality is that while there are many educated prosecutors and diligent police officers in the state, if a false charge is brought against an individual, the officer and prosecutor will not have their lives affected but the innocent defendant will never fully recover from such an accusation. While we do need a change in the law to protect the falsely accused, the first thing that the innocent defendant should do after being found not guilty is sue the individual that falsely accused them for defamation and at least try to reap an economic benefit from the tragedy that they have endured.
Bill Amadeo is a partner at the law firm McManus PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and also works in the criminal defense sector for Grabel & Associates in Lansing, Michigan. In addition to his obligations in the legal profession, Bill owns and operates BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan. Bill is a contributing writer for “We Love Ann Arbor” and “We Love Dexter”. He can be reached at: [email protected].