This article was updated: Feb. 7th, 2023
As a drug crimes law firm in Long Beach, we know about the crime movies and television shows where a completely innocent person is “set up” by the police or by their informants and accused of a crime. Dramatic tension – and the music – rises as the wrongly accused character bravely fights to prove his or her innocence. The story may take some liberties with legal principles and practices, and it may even be quite impossible. But the real possibility of an innocent person being framed for a crime is not as implausible as one might think. In fact, it happens all the time.
Average, law-abiding citizens in the United States are far too frequently framed for drug crimes and for crimes of violence that they did not commit. Being framed is a terrifying reality for many. You or someone you love really could be framed for a crime, and it happens more than we would like to admit. The truth is that the police sometimes do frame innocent people – or allow them to be framed – and prosecutors put innocent people on trial and convict them. If you are framed for a crime, there are a number of things that you need do – and not do – immediately.
SHOULD YOU TRY TO EXPLAIN?
You should never speak to police officers without having a lawyer present. Don’t even think about “explaining things” to the police and hoping they will heed you. If you are being framed, or if the police have already decided that you are guilty as charged, anything that you say will be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or twisted to make you look even more guilty. Try to be polite, but simply say, “I prefer to exercise my right to remain silent.” Then ask to have your attorney present. Don’t be hostile, but you must insist firmly on your rights.
Contact a good criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible after being arrested for any crime. Many innocent people have wrongly ended up in prison because of inadequate legal representation, and those who have been acquitted of these kinds of charges will tell you that their choice of a good attorney probably made the difference. If you are accused a crime and you are persuaded that you are being framed by someone – or if in fact you have no idea where the evidence against you is coming from – you must speak at once with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, and in southern California, you should contact an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney.
HAVE PEOPLE BEEN FRAMED IN CALIFORNIA?
Anyone who has been around the Long Beach area for a number of years will probably remember the sad case of Brian Banks. Brian Banks was a high school football star here in Long Beach with tremendous talent, prospects, and promise. In 2002, during his senior year of high school, Banks was accused of rape by a young woman named Wanetta Gibson. Rather than serve more than forty years behind bars, Brian Banks provided law enforcement authorities with a false confession, and he spent his next five years in a California state prison. After his release, Ms. Gibson contacted him “out of the blue” and personally admitted to Banks that she had lied about the whole story. What Ms. Gibson did not know at the time of her own confession was that Banks was making a recording of her. He was finally exonerated, and his conviction was reversed. Brian Banks now speaks on behalf of the Innocence Project, and he works for the NFL Department of Operations.
While losing five years had to be almost unbearably difficult for Brian Banks, at least he wasn’t sentenced to die. That is what happened to a Texas man named Randall Adams. Adams was found guilty in 1977 of the murder of a Dallas police officer. He served the next twelve years in a Texas prison and came within three days of being executed by the state of Texas in 1979, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution, and in 1980, Adams’ sentence was commuted to life. In 1988, a man named David Harris confessed to the police officer’s murder, and Adams was freed from prison in 1989.
The Innocence Project – the non-profit legal group that Brian Banks now volunteers with – was founded in 1992 to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project says that from two to five percent of all inmates currently in custody in the United States are innocent. That means potentially more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are falsely being held for offenses that they did not commit. With figures like that, you must know what to do if you are being set up or “framed” for a crime in California or any other state.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU’RE BEING INVESTIGATED?
If you learn that you are under investigation and that you are suspected of a crime, speak as quickly as possible with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer may be able to “get in front of” an investigation before any charges are filed. If you are being framed and you retain legal help immediately, it’s possible that the set-up can be exposed early and that you can be cleared without even being charged. If you are arrested and booked for a crime that you did not commit, remember your right to remain silent, and remember to contact a criminal defense attorney as quickly as you can. Always express a pleasant, cooperative attitude to the police, but never consent to any search of your person, home, vehicles, or place of work. You may have nothing to hide and want the police to know it. Nevertheless, make certain the police have a search warrant before they conduct a search.
John Cameron is a true crime writer and a retired police investigator from Great Falls, Montana, He has worked with FBI task forces, and he’s been interviewed on America’s Most Wanted and Dateline NBC. John Cameron believes that a man named Edward Wayne Edwards murdered dozens of people – for more than half-a-century, in every part of the United States – and framed dozens of other innocent people for those murders. Edward Wayne Edwards died in prison in Ohio in 2011. There is no doubt whatsoever that Edwards killed at least five people: two in Ohio in 1977, two in Wisconsin in 1980, and one in Ohio in 1996. John Cameron, however, thinks that Edwards did much more.
Cameron’s ideas really are the definitive conspiracy theory. In his book, It’s Me, Edward Wayne Edwards: The Serial Killer You Never Heard Of, John Cameron puts forth his theory that Edward Wayne Edwards committed dozens of well-known murders over the last five decades. Cameron makes a barely-plausible argument that Edwards was the Atlanta child killer, the Zodiac killer, and that he also murdered Jimmy Hoffa, Chandra Levy, Jon-Benet Ramsey, and dozens of others while framing the innocent for those murders. Yes, Cameron’s theory is highly speculative – and clearly designed to sell books – but the problem is that his theory is actually possible. Cameron offers no proof, but he does demonstrate that Edward Wayne Edwards could have committed all of those murders and set up all of those suspects. If John Cameron is correct about even one of the murders he attributes to Edward Wayne Edwards, and if it’s that easy to frame someone for murder, it’s terrifying.
WHAT EVIDENCE WILL YOU NEED?
Of course, “I was set up” is the claim routinely made by thousands of guilty criminal suspects. If you are prosecuted for a crime and your defense is that the police or someone else is setting you up, you’ll need to offer convincing evidence to back up your claim. Judges and juries assume that in most circumstances, police officers are acting ethically and in good faith. Defendants who have a prior criminal history will generally have a tougher time convincing a jury that they were framed.
Of course, no one in the United States can be convicted for a crime until and unless the state can prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are charged with a crime, have an experienced criminal defense lawyer examine the case and the evidence against you. If there is any error or mistake in the state’s case, your defense lawyer can use that flaw to raise doubts about the charges against you. If you are convinced that evidence against you was planted or that the evidence has been corrupted, tell your defense attorney. Real-life frame-ups usually collapse under scrutiny when they’re properly investigated, and purported “criminal geniuses” such as Edward Wayne Edwards are more apt to frame the innocent in novels and movies than in real life.
If you are charged with any misdemeanor or felony, whether or not you are being framed or you suspect a set-up, you must retain high-quality defense representation at once. Do not try to act as your own attorney. Don’t agree, confess, or admit anything to the police. As quickly as you can after an arrest, contact a good criminal defense lawyer, and in southern California, an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney. Legal help is here, but you must take the first step and make the call.