Steven and Michelle Gesse thought that the small dinner party they hosted on April 5, 2009, would be a pleasant gathering over good food and good wine. Instead, it was the beginning of a nightmarish spiral into a confusing and frightening justice system that in practice, if not in theory, considers you to be guilty until proven innocent.
"During dinner that night, my husband, Steven, made an offhand comment that offended one of our guests," recalls Michelle Gesse, author of the new book Bogus Allegations: The Injustice of Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Johnson Books, March 2012, ISBN: 978-1-55566-450-3, $17.95, www.michellegesse.com). "We were not even aware that she was offended since the remainder of the evening passed pleasantly."
Later that night the Gesses were shocked when law enforcement officers arrived to arrest Steven and search their home. The son of the offended guest had falsely accused Steven of threatening him with a gun.
Over the next seven months, Steven was treated as a criminal whose guilt was already assumed.
On October 28, 2009, Steven Gesse was found not guilty of Felony Menacing and Prohibited Use of a Weapon. Yet being exonerated did not make up for the fact that he had been treated like a convicted felon. This unfairness set Michelle Gesse on a mission to spotlight the injustices of the American justice system -- and to make people aware of what to do in case they are ever falsely accused.
Read on for nine lessons that Michelle Gesse has learned in the Criminal Justice School of Hard Knocks.
Have an "arrest plan" in place. Even if you believe it's unlikely, think about what you would do if you or a loved one were arrested. If you don't have any strategy or knowledge, you'll be at the mercy of "the system."
Be the first to call 911. If you find yourself in any sort of threatening situation, whether it's with a family member, friend, coworker, or complete stranger, don't hesitate. Call 911 first. Once you have been taken into custody, you have been classified as the perpetrator of the crime.
Everyone involved has the right to remain silent. Even if you aren't the person being accused of a crime, exercise your right to remain silent. Don't talk to anyone without a lawyer present.