Laws regarding compensation for false accusations vary from state to state. In California, there are several ways that a falsely accused person could seek potential recompense, and each avenue is useful in specific instances.
The two primary ways to go about seeking compensation from a false accuser are to sue under California’s defamation laws and to sue under California’s laws regarding malicious prosecution. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can review your case to investigate the ideal legal avenue.
Defamation in California
California defines defamation as false statements that bring about some kind of harm to the reputation of the target. The two ways that someone can commit defamation are by slander or libel.
For slander to be involved, the statement need only be made to a third party, even just by word of mouth. Libel refers to defamatory statements that are more permanent or fixed in nature. This can include any form of writing, effigies, or pictures – even posts on the internet.
If the defamatory statement is considered libel, damages do not need to be proved – they are assumed. However, if the defamation is considered slander, including accusations of a crime, damages to one’s reputation must be proven in order to receive compensation. Of course, having an experienced attorney on your side is warranted in either case.
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Pursuing Civil Damages for Defamation
If either slander or libel are proven, then you may be able to recover damages. Be warned that you only have one year after the false statement to sue in court. There are three essential kinds of damages you could be awarded:
- General damages: This is compensation for the suffering and loss of reputation caused by the defamatory act.
- Special damages: Some people can lose their livelihoods or homes over a defamatory statement. Special damages cover these losses (e.g. lost salary for losing a job.)
- Punitive damages: This is compensation awarded by the court or a jury as punishment against the person who defamed you.
The amounts and types of damages you could receive are entirely dependent on the case. Your lawyer will be able to give you an estimate once they have studied the facts of the matter.
A public figure has less protection under defamation laws because of the public nature of their activities. In order to win a defamation case as a public figure, you must prove the statement was false and you must also prove that the defendant acted in “actual malice.”
Actual malice means that they knew the statement was false or had a reckless disregard for the truth. One of the defenses used against defamation claims by public figures is that the defendant made an opinion or comment on a matter of public interest, so proving actual malice is crucial.
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A more difficult route to take when seeking compensation for a false accusation is to initiate a lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution. However, this type of lawsuit is very difficult to prove and is not usually recommended by attorneys.
To win in a malicious prosecution lawsuit, you must prove the following items:
- You were charged with a crime in a previous proceeding.
- That proceeding ended favorably toward the accuser.
- The prosecution in that case lacked probable cause.
- The case was brought against you with malicious intent.
It should be noted that courts in California are traditionally opposed to claims of malicious prosecution, so this is not an option that should be sought in most cases.
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Proving a Wrongful Conviction
Sometimes, unfortunately, people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. This is a serious problem, but there are numerous difficulties in seeking compensation for a false conviction.
In an initial case, the prosecuting attorney is tasked with proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Once that conviction has occurred, however, a person seeking to show that they have been wrongfully convicted must prove their innocence by preponderance of the evidence.
A “preponderance of the evidence” means that, given the evidence, it is more likely than not that the person was innocent of the original crime. This is a different standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In other words, a convicted person is no longer presumed innocent. They are, by definition, presumed guilty based on their conviction. This makes it especially difficult to overturn a conviction, since proving that a crime did not happen is much more difficult than proving guilt, even with the lower evidentiary standard.
Compensation for a Wrongful Conviction
If you have been wrongfully convicted and have managed to prove your innocence by a preponderance of the evidence, California law does allow for compensation. Since 2000, that compensation has been $100 per day spent in jail with no maximum amount.
For compensation to be awarded, however, the following things must be true:
- The claim of wrongful conviction was brought within two years of your release from jail.
- You have proven in court that you were wrongfully convicted.
This means that if you wish to seek justice about a wrongful conviction, you need to act quickly after your release. Many people released from prison are still trying to get on their feet after two years, but it never hurts to have a consultation to see if you have a case for wrongful conviction.
Contacting an Attorney
The most important step to take when contemplating whether to seek compensation for a false accusation or a wrongful conviction is to meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The lawyers at Simmrin Law Group are available for a FREE initial consultation and can help steer you in the right direction for your claim.
Don’t go it alone! Trying to prove your innocence or pursue a defamation claim without the aid of an experienced and knowledgeable representative can mean that you miss out on the compensation you are owed.
Contact the attorneys at Simmrin Law Group by filling out the form to the right of this page or by calling us. The sooner you get an attorney on your case, the sooner you can begin working toward significant compensation for the damages you’ve received.