If you were falsely accused of a crime, can you sue for defamation of character? Maybe. A lot depends on what you crime you were accused of committing, and the circumstances of the accusation. Here's what you should know.
Some Accusations Are So Awful They Automatically Damage Your Reputation
Defamation cases can be hard to prove because you have to show that your reputation was actually wounded in some way. That can mean showing the court that the defamation caused you to lose a job or a promotion, turned friends and neighbors against you, or subjected you to harassment that caused you intense emotional distress or anxiety.
However, there are some accusations that are so awful that the court automatically presumes that your character's been damaged. It's called "defamation per se."
In the case of false criminal accusations, defamation per se is restricted to crimes of "moral turpitude." That means that the alleged crime was particularly serious and vile, such as murder, child molestation, or rape.
The False Accusation Has To Be Made Purposefully Or Recklessly
If you were accused of a horrible crime - like kidnapping - and the accusation was made in good faith, it's considered a mistake, not defamation. For example, if a police detective identified you to the news media as a kidnapper under the genuine but mistaken belief that you had kidnapped someone, that's not defamation per se. There was no actual malice involved.
However, if someone makes a false allegation against you knowingly, either out of malice or simply out of a disregard for the truth, that's considered defamation per se.
For example, a well-known national magazine recently reported on the alleged gang-rape of a woman at a fraternity house without taking appropriate steps to verify any of the allegations made by the supposed victim. When a subsequent police investigation failed to verify any of the allegations, the magazine apologized. However, the fraternity boys are filing suit for defamation per se because the damage to their reputation is already done.
How Are Damages Calculated In Defamation Per Se Cases?
It can be difficult to calculate the potential value of a defamation case, but there are various types of damages that can be awarded, including:
- General damages: These are usually the actual economic losses you've experienced as a result of the defamation. This could be things like lost wages or income if your business suffered as a result of the accusations. It could also be the cost of therapy bills or even legal expenses.
- Punitive Damages: These are designed to punish the person who made the false allegations and are usually imposed when it can be proven that he or she acted out of malice. Punitive damages also deter others from doing similar things.
- Presumptive damages: These are damages that the court can simply assume exist, due to shame, stress, and emotional upheaval. Because these damages aren't calculated off of an actual monetary figure, the court can award anything from a nominal amount (like $1.00) to many thousands (up to whatever state limit might exist).
If you were falsely accused of a horrible crime, and you either know or suspect that your accuser acted out of malice or a total disregard for the truth, you can sue for defamation - and you probably should, as a way to restore your own good name. Consult an attorney, such as Steven A. Crifase Ltd, to discuss the situation right away.