The law protects those who have been wrongly accused of crimes when those accusations are untrue and have caused damage to the person's reputation. The law allows those falsely accused of a crime to pursue a cause of action in court, generally based on defamation of character, which requires the accused to prove that a false statement was made, the statement was conveyed to a third party and that statement caused harm.
False accusation laws protect victims of libel and slander. Libel is a type of defamation that is made in writing, for example, through mediums such as newspapers or magazines. Slander is the spoken form of defamation.
In a successful defamation lawsuit, damages generally include economic damages resulting from harm to the accused's reputation. However, some jurisdictions allow for noneconomic damages such as emotional or mental distress. There is also a form of defamation called per se defamation in which damages are simply presumed to exist based on the severity of the accusation. Accusations falling under the per se category include attacks on a person's professional ability, implications that a woman is unchaste or claims that the accused suffers from a sexually transmitted disease.
Many defenses exist against laws of false accusation. Truth is an absolute defense to any charge of defamation. Statements that are privileged, made as a fair comment on public interest or merely an opinion are also protected. Any consent by the accused to the dissemination of the allegedly defamatory statement is also a defense.
Those in the public eye have more stringent requirements when bringing a claim under the laws of false accusation. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that for a public figure to prove defamation, the official must prove that the statement was made with actual malice or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Civil lawsuits brought under the laws on false accusation are difficult to prove. They can also be expensive and require the assistance of an experienced attorney to build the case and represent the accused's interest in court.