Being charged with a criminal offence can be a stressful experience, and telling your family members and close friends about the accusations can be a daunting task.
But it’s important to know that those who are closest to you can be a pillar of support through difficult times – providing much needed emotional assistance when you need it the most.
Here are some tips about how to approach a difficult task.
Obtain legal advice
It is always in your best interest to get legal advice before talking to anyone about what you have been charged with.
This not only protects your legal interests, but it also means you will be better informed of the next steps in the criminal justice process.
Your initial meeting with a lawyer will inform you about the way forward, including your options, the best way forward, what you may be facing and the court process.
This can help you when you speak to loved ones about your situation.
Be ready for questions from your loved ones
Whilst it may seem overly formal, it is often a good idea to anticipate some of the questions your loved ones may ask and prepare some responses in your head.
Some common questions family members may ask are:
- What are they saying you did?
- Did you do it?
- What actually happened?
- What are you going to do?
- How long is this process going to take?
- What does your lawyer think?
There are situations where it may be against your interests to divulge too much to those close to you, especially, for example, where they may be a witness to the events in question.
That said, your family may well be able to provide you with emotional stability and a much needed avenue to help you make decisions, which can assist you through the process.
Know the situation can be confronting for loved ones
It’s important to be aware that receiving information that you have been accused of a serious offence – especially one that is seen as particularly repulsive or heinous such as a sexual offence – can stir emotions in your loved ones as well.
They may find it difficult to reconcile the allegations with the person they know, while at the same time asking themselves why you would be facing charges if you are innocent.
Try to step into their shoes and empathise with their feelings, rather than act confrontationally or aggressively when they ask you legitimate questions, such as those listed about.
For some loved ones, the automatic reaction may be asking how they can help you get through this.
You should make it clear that they should not attempt to investigate your case themselves and should never attempt to contact complainants or witnesses, as doing this could land them in trouble.
But you may wish to encourage them to attend court with you, or to get in contact with your lawyer if they have information which may be of assistance to your case.
Be willing to accept help if you think it could assist.
Take care of yourself, your lawyer will take care of the legal side
It is extremely important that, throughout the process, you remain focused on taking care of yourself by continuing to attend work and your regular social activities, as well as being physically active.
Take care of yourself and let your lawyer take care of the legal side of things.
If you feel it’s all getting too much for you, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. After all, that what it’s there for.
Some Australia-wide support services that you can reach out to for help include:
So, the bottom line is not to try to do it all alone – those who are close to you will often want to stand by you and help in any way they can, and professional help is out there if you need it.
Jarryd Bartle practised as a criminal defence lawyer before moving on to specialist consultancy. He has written for several publications including The Guardian, VICE and The Conversation, covering a range of criminal justice-related topics.