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Friday, October 8, 2010

Innocent and Wrongfully Accused? Getting Ready to Fight

The two 18-year-old students at Rutgers University, Molly Wei and Dharan Ravi, may be facing months of uncertainty over whether their intermediate-term future will revolve around a criminal prosecution for a hate crime, in the wake of the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi.

People who are completely innocent, as well as people who were simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time," meaning they were close enough to something bad happening to end up within what I call the "circle of suspicion," can and routinely do end up under suspicion by the authorities for having committed, or being involved in, some sort of crime. 

The chances of a person coming within a circle of suspicion increase as one is more sociable, and particularly if one engages in community affairs or politics, or runs a business.  One risk factor is having a "profile," and this doesn't mean a Facebook profile; it means having some sort of stature in one's community or industry.

Our continuing economic troubles increase your risk.  Those who make up "the authorities" are public employees and, as such, are under constant fear of losing their jobs due to "budget cuts."  Your policemen, investigators and prosecutors often feel pressure to justify their continued employment.  The easiest way to prove their usefulness is to boost their "numbers" - that is, the number of people being arrested and convicted.

This should help you understand how actual innocence can become irrelevant to your chances of avoiding trouble.  Actual innocence may make it harder for the authorities to ultimately convict you, but it is little more than a speed bump for an ethically-challenged, financially-pressured public servant -- and especially one who may have some racial or ethnic bias or other animosity (perhaps fueled by jealousy or envy, two particularly toxic and permanent emotions) towards you.  Innocent people get arrested, investigated, threatened, convicted and jailed every day.

This scenario presents people like Molly Wei and Dharan Ravi with tremendous uncertainty.  While most people can go about their daily business relatively certain that they will escape many troubles and can "take for granted" how their lives will unfold over the next few weeks and months, Wei and Ravi are faced with indefinite uncertainty.  The prospect of being criminally prosecuted, and especially in a politically-charged, witch-hunt atmosphere, creates grave uncertainty for them both in the short term and the long term.

Wei and Ravi -- and all those threatened with prosecution -- must fear being charged, as well as all the bad dominoes which could fall in their doomsday scenario.  Should everything go wrong, Molly Wei and Dharan Ravi could be charged, tried in court, convicted, jailed and thereafter stigmatized.

Even if everything goes right from this point on, and assuming neither Wei nor Ravi are prosecuted on the relatively mild state charge of invasion of privacy, their reputations have been damaged and their relative anonymity has been replaced by a degree of notoriety.  Regardless of what happens, there is no "going back," no return to the "status quo ante," for these two.

In this maelstrom of stress and worry, it is useful to have a skilled lawyer who can help someone cope with these emotions and develop the courage and inner strength to fight unfair and unfounded charges.  There are many innocent people who plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, to escape crushing emotional or financial pressures.  Such a decision is unnecessary, completely reckless, and can be disastrous for one's future.  For a short-term respite from pressure -- and I would argue, something which would only be the illusion of a respite -- one would risk one's entire future and reputation.

It is crucial for the innocent, the wrongfully accused and the unfortunates "in the wrong place and the wrong time" who were close enough to a bad act to get dragged into a prosecution, to have the mental strength to assert one's legal innocence and withstand these pressures.  If you are reading this and are in such a situation, I can help you get ready for the battle of your lifetime. 

Eric Dixon is the president of Eric Dixon LLC, headquartered in New York City.  Mr. Dixon has been a New York lawyer since graduating in 1994 from Yale Law School.  Mr. Dixon handles litigation counseling and litigation stress management for those who are the subject of lawsuits, have been threatened or expect to be sued or investigated.  Mr. Dixon has extensive knowledge of corporate governance, the federal securities laws (including the many anti-fraud provisions and related issues) and election law, and significant experience in representing businesses and their owners and managers in litigation, government investigations, settlement negotiations, complex due diligence investigations and business formations.  Mr. Dixon has also represented over two dozen political campaign committees and candidates for public office, including presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, on ballot access issues.  Mr. Dixon may be reached for a confidential consultation and case assessment at 917-696-2442 or via e-mail at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.

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