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What if I didn’t know my statements were false? Can I still be charged?

What if I didn’t know my statements were false? Can I still be charged?

This is a common question that comes up in defamation and fraud cases. The short answer is yes, you can still face legal consequences even if you did not knowingly make a false statement. However, your intent and knowledge of the falsity can impact the specific charges and defense strategies. Let’s break it down a bit more.

Defamation Charges

If someone sues you for defamation over a statement you made about them which turned out false, your knowledge of the falsity can matter. Defamation law varies quite a bit by state, but in general there are standards like:

  • Defamation per se – Does not require proof of actual harm or damages if the statement is damaging on its face. This includes allegations of serious crimes, cheating diseases, professional misconduct, etc.
  • Actual malice – Requires knowledge that the statement was false or reckless disregard for the truth. This standard often applies to public figures suing for defamation.

So if you make a defamatory statement about a public figure, you could still be liable even if you thought it was true. You may be accused of failing to properly verify. But if you make a sincerely mistaken statement about a private figure, you may have defenses like:

  • Lack of actual malice
  • Retraction statutes – Some states limit damages if you retracted/apologized for the statement

The bottom line is context matters – who you made the statement about, the nature of the remark, and your process for verifying matter for defamation charges.

Fraud Charges

For criminal fraud charges, your intent also comes into play. Fraud requires intentional deception – so you could defend against charges by proving you did not know the statements were inaccurate. Potential fraud defenses include:

  • Lack of intent – You must knowingly deceive someone with inaccurate statements
  • Good faith reliance on professionals – You reasonably relied on advice of attorneys, accountants, etc.
  • Accident or mistake – You had a process for verification which failed through no fault of your own

So if you unknowingly pass bad information to investors, clients, etc., you may avoid fraud liability by showing the error was accidental rather than with intent to mislead.

The Potential Perjury Trap

One risk, however, is getting caught in a “perjury trap” if questioned under oath. As our criminal defense attorneys explain, perjury means knowingly making a false statement while under oath. Even if you initially believe a statement is true, continuing to assert it after clear proof arises that it’s false can lead to perjury charges.

And unlike defamation or fraud, perjury does not typically require proof that you knew the statement was false initially. Just that you ultimately became aware and failed to correct yourself. That’s why it’s always wise to clarify that your statements are based on your current knowledge. Never be afraid to admit if evidence arises which contradicts your prior statements or understanding of events.

Consult an Attorney!

There are many nuances here, so consult a qualified attorney if you face charges over false statements. They can assess your case specifics and mount the best defense. For instance, by gathering evidence about:

  • Your state of mind and intent
  • Reasonable reliance on professionals
  • Verification processes used
  • Level of care taken before making statements
  • Any retractions or clarifications after the fact

With strong evidence of accidental error rather than intent to mislead, an attorney may get charges dismissed or reduced. Or at least mitigate penalties if a conviction occurs.

The law allows some leeway for innocent mistakes. But know that feigning ignorance rarely succeeds as a defense after-the-fact. Consult counsel early if accused of making false or defamatory statements. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when reputation and freedom are at stake.


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