PWN = An act of dominating an opponent. DGU = Defensive Gun Use. The following article is republished with permission from ammoland.com.

Boulder, CO (November 2012)— Steven and Michelle Gesse thought that the small dinner party they hosted on the night of April 5, 2009, would be just that: an informal, pleasant gathering of neighbors over good food and good wine. Instead, it turned out to be 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). “We were not even aware that she was offended since the remainder of the evening passed pleasantly. But what took place later that night changed the course of our lives forever. Never, in a million years, could we have imagined it could happen to us.”

Steven and Michelle were stunned and terrified when the neighbor’s son, who had also been a guest at the dinner party (and was an active Navy Seal), returned later in the evening threatening Steven and demanding an apology. Thinking, Okay, I’ll go over and apologize and be done with it, Steven went next door to try to smooth things over.

Later that night the Gesses were shocked when law enforcement officers arrived at their home in the middle of the night to arrest Steven and search their home. As it turned out, Michelle reports, the son of the offended guest had falsely accused Steven of threatening him with a gun.

Over the next seven months, she would watch helplessly as her innocent husband was treated by the justice system as a criminal whose guilt was already assumed.

“Steven’s name—but not his accuser’s!—was printed in all the local newspapers in connection with the case,” she describes. “We were in and out of court, and were forced to spend our retirement money to fund Steven’s defense. And as part of the conditions of his bail, Steven had to receive special permission to leave the state, and had to meet regularly with a drug counselor.

“He even had to appear for random breathalyzer tests,” she adds. “While it may not seem like a big deal on the surface, it meant he couldn’t even enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and had to be available for the test whenever required. That’s just how deeply this experience insinuated itself into the fabric of our day-to-day lives.”

On October 28, 2009, Steven Gesse was found not guilty of Felony Menacing and Prohibited Use of a Weapon by a jury. Yet being exonerated did not make up for the fact that he had been treated like a convicted felon. The unfairness of it all set Michelle Gesse on a mission to shine a spotlight on the injustices of the American justice system—and to make people aware of what to do in case they are ever falsely accused.

“Proving that Steven was innocent—innocent!—cost us, not Steven’s false accuser, so much time, stress, energy, and money,” Gesse says. “That’s not what I had pictured ‘justice’ to be before experience taught me otherwise. Now I know, among other things, that you need a committed lawyer and a healthy bank account to beat a completely bum rap.”

Of course, few people give much thought to what they should do (and not do) if they are falsely accused. But like the Gesses, prior to their ordeal, you too might have an “it’ll never happen to me” attitude. But the truth is, there’s no way to know for sure what curveballs life might have in store—and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Read on for 12 lessons that Michelle Gesse has learned in the Criminal Justice School of Hard Knocks. Having this information beforehand might make a huge difference if you or a loved one is ever falsely accused of a crime.

Have an “arrest plan” in place (yes, it could happen to you)

Generally, people don’t assume that their homes will catch fire. Statistically speaking, it’s not a likely occurrence. But most people still take out homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, just in case. Likewise, though you hope it’ll never happen, you teach your child to scream and run if accosted by a stranger. You’ve probably considered what you’d do if someone approached you in a dark parking lot. And depending on where you live, your family may have a wildfire, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake plan in place. In the same way, says Gesse, you should think through and be prepared for a possible arrest.

“None of us think something like this could happen to us, but it is possible that at some point in your life you or someone you love may be arrested,” she says. “It could be your spouse, your child, a relative, or a good friend. What would you do if this happened? Would you be forearmed with any strategy or knowledge, or would you be floundering, completely at the mercy of ‘the system’? Believe me, it’s a good idea to think about what you would do if you were confronted by the police at your own front door, or how you might respond if you received a phone call telling you that a loved one had been arrested. That disaster may have a higher probability than many of those for which you have prepared.”

Likewise, it is wise to have “the talk” with your kids beforehand. This particular “talk” should be about what they should do if they are ever arrested or interrogated by law enforcement officers, regardless of the reason.

Be the first to call 911

The person to call 911 is always going to be considered the victim, regardless of the circumstances. 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. Be the first to call 911. While it may not seem “right” or “fair,” the first person to call 911 is going to be regarded as the victim, regardless of the facts or the truth.

“Even though he was telling a blatant lie, Steven’s accuser was treated by law enforcement as the victim since they heard his version of the story first,” Gesse recalls. “As we learned, once you have been taken into custody, you have been classified as the perpetrator of the crime. The so-called victim will receive support from victims’ advocates, the press, law enforcement, the community, etc., while you and your family are on your own to clear your name. Trust me, being the first to pick up the phone can save you an unimaginable amount of stress, time, notoriety, and money.”

Everyone involved has the right to remain silent

Imagine the following scenario: Your spouse (or any loved one) has just been handcuffed and taken away from your home in a police car. You are out of your league with no idea what is going on, and you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety, panic, confusion, and fear. Meanwhile, other officers and detectives have remained at your residence. Your first instinct is to talk to them, to tell them the truth about what happened, and to prove to them that your spouse has done nothing wrong. Don’t.

“Even if you aren’t the person being accused of a crime, exercise your right to remain silent!” Gesse stresses. “Don’t talk to anyone without a lawyer present. I shouted that very warning at my husband as the police put him in the squad car, but it never occurred to me that I should follow my own advice as I sat at home with a deputy waiting for the search warrant to arrive. In court I was grilled by the prosecution about what I said and what I didn’t say. If Steven had been found guilty because of something I’d said, or a fact I hadn’t mentioned had put doubt into the jury’s minds, I would never have forgiven myself.”

Insist on a search warrant, even if you have nothing to hide

“Can we search the house?” If you know that you have not committed any wrongdoing and have nothing to hide, you may be tempted to answer this question with a “yes.” The more cooperative I am, the sooner this will be over, you reason. Maybe the officers will even see that I’m innocent, and my family will never be bothered again.

“Squelch the impulse to be open and helpful, and don’t allow anyone to search your house without a warrant,” Gesse instructs. “Insisting on the warrant was probably the smartest thing I did the night my husband was arrested. As I found out later, it can tell your lawyer what the police were looking for. And if the search wasn’t executed properly, having the warrant might make whatever was found ineligible to be introduced as evidence. Remember, it’s always best to have physical documentation when you’re dealing with the criminal justice system.”

Realize that the criminal justice system is hard on the innocent

If you have ever watched one of the many television shows or movies that’s based around the legal system, you might take it for granted that the law officers, investigators, and prosecutors are going to search for the truth and examine the evidence before prosecuting. According to Gesse, that’s Hollywood—reality looks very different.

“The criminal justice system in the U.S. is a ‘flow system,’” she explains. “By that, I mean that the system wants to dispose of as many cases as quickly as possible. They do this by negotiating plea bargains. A plea bargain is the quickest and least expensive way for them and for you to end the process. Accepting a plea bargain even to a lesser offense, however, may mean having a criminal record as well as having conditions imposed on you like alcohol testing, community service, or limits on travel. Would you be willing to do that if you knew you were innocent? My husband wasn’t willing to make that sort of deal (with my full support), and we ended up paying financially and emotionally for not playing the game the system’s way.”

Expect to be treated like you’re guilty

Again, what you see on TV and what happens in real life are two different things. As Gesse has pointed out, the criminal justice system is focused on prosecution and on garnering guilty verdicts, so don’t expect a full-scale Law and Order– or CSI-type investigation. Instead, expect to be prosecuted even if the facts and evidence don’t support a guilty verdict.

“Unless your case is extremely high-profile, it’s unlikely that the prosecutor will even review the case file until shortly before the trial,” Gesse says. “And the prosecutor will proceed even when the supposed victim indicates that he or she prefers to put an end to the proceeding. Meanwhile, you might be forced to live under court-ordered stipulations that resemble nothing so much as parole.

“For instance, Steven had to submit to random alcohol testing, had to meet with a drug counselor, couldn’t be in proximity to weapons, and couldn’t leave Colorado without special permission. Not to mention the fact that we were in and out of court and his name was in the newspaper, while the supposed ‘victim’ walked free in anonymity! After Steven was acquitted, we practically had to beg the newspaper to run a story announcing that he had been found innocent.”

Proving your innocence comes with a very high price tag

Since Steven Gesse did not take the plea bargain he was offered and instead maintained his innocence, he paid a very high price. Proceeding to trial doubled the Gesses’ legal expenses and made the process last twice as long. In contrast, the false accuser did not have to pay legal fees, and his transportation to and from the trial was covered. And the sad reality is that the Gesses had no recourse to either the individuals or the legal system that falsely accused them and prosecuted them even after Steven was found not guilty.

“We do not in any way regret the decision to proceed to trial,” Gesse confirms. “It was the right decision for us, but many families will not have either the financial or emotional resources to successfully undertake this course of action. You need to know the costs in advance before deciding to go ahead. Yes, I know, it seems incredibly unfair—even unbelievable—that an innocent person would have to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to prove that he has done nothing illegal. But that’s reality.”

Getting a lawyer doesn’t imply guilt. (In fact, innocent people need the most help!) 

Chances are, you’ve seen a TV show in which someone being questioned by the police asks, “Do I need a lawyer?” And the questioner responds with something like, “If you’re innocent, why would you need a lawyer?” or, “Just tell the truth. If you have nothing to hide, you won’t need an attorney.” Yes, these television personas make it seem like getting representation implies guilt. But if you’re ever falsely accused of a crime in real life, you’ve never needed a lawyer more.

“In my opinion, the innocent need legal help even more than the guilty,” Gesse says. “Think about it this way: You wouldn’t travel to a dangerous foreign country without hiring a good guide. And for all intents and purposes, the legal justice system is a dangerous foreign country. As an innocent person, you have no idea what’s going on, what to expect, or how to handle the many obstacles that will be thrown in your path. You certainly aren’t equipped to represent yourself in court. So yes, you’ll definitely need the help of an experienced professional if you don’t want to end up serving time for a crime you didn’t commit.”

Don’t skimp on a lawyer

If you are falsely accused of a crime and decide to proceed to trial, don’t skimp on a lawyer. This is not the time to save money. If your finances are tight, shop at discount stores and give up steak and wine—but don’t look for bargain legal counsel.

“If you go to trial, you want the best lawyer you can afford…or perhaps one a tad more expensive than you can afford,” Gesse asserts. “Personally, I’d rather go into debt than go to jail for something I didn’t do. If you simply cannot afford a lawyer, public defenders are an option. I’ll put in the caveat that I’m by no means an expert, but my impression is that a public defender will try to dispose of your case by urging you to take a plea bargain offer. Public defenders are overworked and have a lot of cases, so again, they’re probably looking for the easiest and fastest ‘solution.’”

You’re not as alone as you think you are

If you ever find yourself or a loved one falsely accused of a crime, you’ll probably feel alone and totally adrift. But keep in mind that more people than you would ever expect have found themselves in this situation. Unfortunately, an unwarranted sense of shame keeps most falsely accused individuals from sharing their stories. Don’t be afraid to do your own research on the subject of “false accusations” or to reach out to others who have been there. You will need to establish your own safety net of a very small number of individuals with whom you can confide.

“I have been amazed by the number of people who have told me similar stories about themselves, their family, or friends after Bogus Allegations was published,” Gesse shares. “These stories include an ex-boyfriend accusing a former girlfriend of a felony in order to get her deported, an ex-wife accusing her former spouse of hiding financial assets, and a teenage girl accusing a young man of inappropriate sexual advances. I promise you, you are not alone. And the advice and experiences of others—especially during your ordeal—can be an invaluable resource.”

Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster

If the process of going to trial is financially costly, it’s every bit as brutal on your emotional reserves. Expect for everyone in the family to feel stress, fear, anger, and exhaustion (just to name a few) on a regular basis. You might cry easily, little things will make you mad, and your sex life will likely suffer. So cut yourself and your loved ones some slack, and be easy on yourselves. This is not the time to go on a diet or start a new job. And don’t worry—feeling this way is normal.

“The seven months between when my husband was arrested and his trial were more stressful than watching both of my parents die of a fatal disease,” Gesse admits. “During those periods I could talk to friends. Everyone in my life was supportive. It was socially acceptable to fall apart. I wasn’t ashamed that my parents and I were going through the process. And there are plenty of available resources on how to deal with the death of a parent. However, none of that is the case when you’re dealing with the wrongful prosecution of a loved one. You can never escape the stress and strain, and there are very few emotional outlets available to you.”

You’ll find out who your true friends are

If you are wrongfully accused of a crime, you’ll probably be surprised and saddened by the number of people in your life who don’t want to be involved. People whom you had considered to be friends may pull away, become distant, or even refuse to help. Unfortunately, many individuals may feel so awkward even approaching the topic that they avoid it, denying you the support you need so badly. Sadly other “friends” may assume that since you have been arrested, you are probably guilty.

“A neighbor Steven and I had considered to be a very close friend attended the dinner party that sparked our whole nightmare,” Gesse recalls. “We assumed that of course he would be fully ‘on our side’ and willing to do whatever was necessary to clear Steven’s name. However, this man initially refused to even speak to our lawyer. He and his wife considered the situation to be ‘something between two neighbors’ and didn’t want to get involved. Steven and I were bitterly disappointed by what we saw as abandonment and betrayal. However, I do want to point out that other friends stepped up and went above and beyond the call of duty throughout those long seven months.”

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to know the facts about the criminal justice system, and to think about what you would do if you or someone you love is ever falsely accused,” Gesse states. “No, it will probably never happen to you. (I sincerely hope it doesn’t!) But if you ever find yourself in my family’s shoes, you’ll need all of the knowledge and resources you can possibly get your hands on.

“I used to think that the innocent had nothing to fear,” she concludes. “Now I know that the opposite is true. Our country’s criminal justice system puts the heaviest burden on the defendant…whether the accusations are well-founded or not.”

About the Author:
Michelle Gesse
, author of Bogus Allegations: The Injustice of Guilty Until Proven Innocent, is a native of Chicago, IL. She earned a BS in mathematics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and completed her MBA at the University of Chicago. She spent 15 years in banking, working for Northern Trust in Chicago and Chase Manhattan in New York. From 1992 to 2011, Michelle successfully owned and ran a manufacturing company in Boulder, CO.

Michelle lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband, Steven. Before the incident described in Bogus Allegations, Michelle and Steven never thought that they would get involved in the criminal justice system.

For more information, please visit www.michellegesse.com.

About the Book:
Bogus Allegations: The Injustice of Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Johnson Books, March 2012, ISBN: 978-1-55566-450-3, $17.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.michellegesse.com.

71 Responses to How Not to Get PWNed After a DGU

  1. I have often said that we need to replace the “Criminal Justice “System” with the “Victim Justice System.” When you commit a crime, you get free room and board, college education, medical care, gym membership, cable tv, magazine subscriptions, etc., etc. What do the victims get? F’ed!

  2. For the older folk: “PWN” comes from the taunt “OWNED!”, which was commonly used in competitive multiplayer First Person Shooter videogames years ago. Then one day someone mistyped and “PWNED!” became the trendy version of “OWNED!”

    • I am a bit surprised that this word is making its way beyond gaming. I almost didnt want to read the article because of the title. As much as I like saying poon(ed) as I pronounce it, I just cant take anyone seriously who uses the word.

  3. Replace “pressure to accept a plea bargain” with “pressure to accept a settlement”, and much (but obviously not all) of the above is applicable to civil trials instead of criminal trials. Having been both a defendant and plaintiff in the civil courts, it seems that the system never worked in my favor, becuase it is geared toward those with money and clout.

    One important lesson I did learn in the civil court system is that we, as consumers of legal services, are screwed. While “get a lawyer” sounds great in theory, there is no guaranty that the lawyer is going to represent your interests, but you’ll be well wrung through the process by the time you figure that out. And, as law professor Ben Barton explains in the video below, the judges and lawyers have made it very hard to hold lawyers accountable for malpractice.

    • “That’s why it should be ‘get a GREAT lawyer’ not just ‘get a lawyer’…”

      And as a one-time consumer of legal services, how are you to know which is which?

      The only people who can trust their lawyers are repeat players in the system who have an ongoing relationships with their lawyers (e.g., corporations).

  4. Being accused of a crime, even while innocent, is no fun… and definitely one of the reasons I don’t make lawyer jokes anymore.

    You get charged / sued?

    Get a good lawyer, a person with experience and good references… don’t be a cheapskate and think that a public defender or some guy who got his degree via mail order will give you and your family the same level of quality when it comes to defending your life, property, and reputation. You’ll be thankful when it’s done.

    Oh… and the best video for dealing with police is on Youtube. Look up “DON’T TALK TO THE POLICE”.

  5. Wow that is nuts.
    Actually there are two things here. First off the person who filed the report, they made a false statement to police. Second you could go to civil court to recoup lawyer fees. You would probably win since you were found not guilty. The other item is if there were any witnesses that he was not threatening the neighbor with a gun. If that is the case there is a good chance Mr. Navy seal could go to jail and be dishonorably discharged to boot.
    Part of the justice system in Europe adopts the following. Lets say you make a claim against someone. That is your right but the loosing party pays for legal fees, with out question. In this case it was a trial based upon the district attorney. I am not sure how that would work, but certainly the family making the claim would be held and should be held responsible. My personal opinion is if the DA decides to prosecute and the person is found innocent, the DA pays the fees. This allows folks who couldn’t afford a descent attorney to get one. I am not dissing public defenders, but usually their case loads are so heavy that they barely keep up.
    If they haven’t filed a civil suit they should. They need to make sure that they get monies for the new lawyer as well as the old which will get them back to square one as it were.
    You can’t solve the stress and emotional involvement but certainly gaining your retirement back would be nice. Plus it would put the false accuser in his place.
    I hate frivolous law suits and this certainly seems like one of them, although it was done by the DA. I want to know what kind of testimony did he have that the DA thought he could win? The guy went over and apologized, geez, what was the guy thinking?
    What I gather from the short article is that you should call 911 to get an escort to apologize to your neighbor? WTF has this world come too??

        • This is the sort of thing I like to reference the Bible.

          #1 Bearing false witness is a big ten sin. It’s on the same level of evil as murder.

          #2 The punishment for bearing false witness is to accept the punishment you tried to inflict on the other person. IE. if you try to get somebody killed via court system by lying about a murder your punishment for perjury would be capital punishment.

          It would be better in a lot of ways if the USA court system followed these sorts of guidelines instead of depending on imprisonment to solve all problems.

          Also I believe it needs to be proven that some sort of damage actually occurred for a just and fair criminal prosecution to take place. This means that somebody got hurt, some sort of property got stolen or damaged, etc.

          That is to say that “Malum in se” is the only moral laws that should be punishable by criminal prosecution. Violators of “Malum prohibitum” should only be subject to paying civil damages and censor, if that.

          The USA criminal justice system has turned into a farce. Especially in the Federal system. It just grinds human lives to dust in the machinery of a massive bureaucracy completely regardless of guilt or damages with little recourse for the accused and no compensation for the victims. It’s shameful that society tolerates and even celebrates this level of evil in our midst.

        • I was NOT talking about civil litigation (but after it was exausted to my dissatisfaction). Think of the loss and pain inflicted on your loved ones (and yourself) due to the evildoers. Sometimes justice and the law are two different things.

    • The DA pays? Not going to happen. The DA=The People=YOU, the taxpayer. You are already paying for the DA, the police, the judge, and all the people who can’t afford lawyers who are charged with a criminal offense (i.e., public defender). Do you think the public will stand for paying some high flying criminal defense attorney who charges $500 an hour for every case the DA loses? Not!

      The only time the loser pays in the American system is when (1) there is an attorney’s fees clause in a contract, (2) a statute allows for it. For example in section 1983 civil rights cases, a successful plaintiff is almost always entitled to recoup attorney’s fees from the public entity. (Strangely enough, although the attorney’s fees statute is written so that the winner recovers, it is a rare case where the government will be granted its fees.)

      • I believe the correct term is ‘Miscarriage of Justice’.

        For it to be otherwise the false accuser should face the same criminal penalties that he attempted to inflict on the innocent man.

    • Me too. Not to lessen the bs of the Gesse’s experience, I find it almost as disheartening that the real perpetrator was “an active Navy Seal”! I think he should loose his trident. The Gesse family should contact this man’s commander and raise hell, politely . If you think regular law is a bitch try the UCMJ sometime. I would try to crucify this louse for breaking his oath to uphold the Constitution. False information to the police is a crime, is it not?

      • it is and the UCMJ is also infamous for being “guilty before innocent”-centric.

        Boy wouldnt that be delicious irony?

        personally, i would take him to the cleaners. civil suit, phone call to the commander or station commander, and publicize the whole thing. i would bleed him penniless.

      • Maybe.
        If things go that way in court, and the ‘false witness’ is exposed as such.
        Chances are, if this troop was not a problem to his chain of command, they will support him, since they have implicitly judged his character as exemplary by appointing him to his position and retaining him in that position.
        Any failure on his part is a bad reflection on their judgement as well.

        • If you do not get justice inside the courtroom…..then ‘outside’ (you need knees to function in the military).

  6. I’ve been through the same situation (had a relative who had a whiny coworker who decided to claim that her purse was stolen and then claim that the relative was the one who stole it). There were no witnesses, no investigation – the police simply took her at her word without questioning anyone at all and then got a crooked judge to give them an arrest warrant. The worst part was that, despite getting a lawyer that was highly recommended by LEO’s in the family who’ve worked with him (and against him) in court, the lawyer didn’t do a damn thing. His entire plan was that “Well, it’s innocent until proven guilty and they have no evidence”, so he refused to gather any evidence in support of the victim and did the worst “questioning” during the trial I could ever imagine because his entire strategy was just to repeatedly ask for a dismissal. That’s the problem with lawyers who get paid no matter what – they have no motivation to put out any effort since they’re being paid the same amount regardless of what happens.

  7. Rule #1: STFU
    Rule #2: Never trust the cops. They will railroad you in a heartbeat — unless you’re also a cop, in which case they’ll help you dispose of the body.
    Rule #3: Get a good lawyer.

    Lawyers get a ration of sh!t from the massively ignorant who thinks that every lawyer in the world is the one who represented their ex-wife and relieved them of their trailer. But really, your lawyer is your last line of defense. When he walks you out of an unjust prosecution, you will kiss his a$$ — figuratively speaking — and he will enjoy his vacation in Paris on your dime.

    What’s your freedom worth?

    • it sucks, but you hit the nail on the head.

      i really hate saying this too, because it really hurts peoples feelings, but it really pays to be wealthy. If I f–k up, i statistically will get a far lesser punishment because I have the cash to pay for something fierce on the western side of the mississippi. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and something bad happens like that, then your options are really limited.

      ill be the first to agree: my freedom has no price, especially if im innocent.

  8. Please pay attention, because this is the most important line in the entire post:

    Before the incident described in Bogus Allegations, Michelle and Steven never thought that they would get involved in the criminal justice system.

    Be prepared.

    • Check. And as far as not talking to the Fuzz ( I think I just dated myself) Don’t talk to anyone about politics, religion, or sexual orientation (unless you are conduction a personal one on one interview for later fraternization ) ever.

      A seal caused all that grief with a lie. What a disappointment. Can you believe that? And who in their right mind would pull a gun on a Seal?

  9. Question: what the hell was the original comment that pissed off the neighbor in the first place? Knowing the location is The Peoples Republic of Boulder, it could be anything from “The US should get out of the UN.” to “I’m looking forward to hunting season.”

    Or is that in the book?

  10. It is odd that it is never mentioned what exactly this man said that set the woman and her son off. Also, despite what she says he was not found innocent but rather not guilty. There is a difference and it isn’t just semantics.

    • Right.
      I had a neighbor who claimed he was “exonerated” in court. But all “not guilty” means is that the jury was not unanimously agreed that you were proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
      As they say, “It is well you were acquitted. It would have been better if you had never been tried”.

      • That’s not accurate. I fthe jury cannot agree, it is a hung jury. If they come back not guilty, they have, at the least, unanimously concluded that the DA has not proved the charge beyond a reasonable doubt; it is uncertain, without talking to them, whether they found factual innocence. Maybe they ought to add another category to the verdict form: guilty, not guilty, or innocent

        • OOPS!
          I ignored the hung jury possibility. But the point is that unless something out of Perry Mason happens in the trial, and the real villain is exposed and clearly proven guilty, “not guilty” is far from a finding of “innocent”.

    • I thought the same thing, but that would probably be giving the whole book away. Things can definitely sound differently out of context, and that may very well be how the comment was taken. I’m not convinced that the SEAL was lying – perhaps be bad been lied to by the “victim,” and he might have gone throught the whole process with the understanding that he was doing the right thing.

      • Not to say that a SEAL can’t lie, but the article says that:

        “Steven and Michelle were stunned and terrified when the neighbor’s son, who had also been a guest at the dinner party (and was an active Navy Seal), returned later in the evening threatening Steven and demanding an apology. Thinking, Okay, I’ll go over and apologize and be done with it, Steven went next door to try to smooth things over.”

        So, they are stunned and terrified that some SEAL (said to imply BADASS) came to their house, TERRIFIED, yet didn’t call the police? If I’m TERRIFIED, I’m grabbing my sidearm, calling the cops, and staying put. So, something doesn’t add up.

        But then our alleged perp goes over to their house.

        The article further says: “As it turned out, Michelle reports, the son of the offended guest had falsely accused Steven of threatening him with a gun.”

        Now, we can’t tell whether the allegation of brandishing took place at the author’s house or at the neighbor’s house. So, a TERRIFIED Steven could also have packed his sidearm (just in case, to face this badass SEAL that just TERRIFIED him) to go next door, and in the heat of argument said piece was uncovered.

        I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But I see enough revealed to say that what the book says may or not be true either, regardless of all the apparent good gouge. Here is what I DO know:
        * Not guilty != innocent. Bears repeating.
        * The book as written is one person’s perspective, and not even the alleged offender since it was written by the wife WHO WAS NOT AT THE NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE (“Steven went next door” not “We went next door”). Put another way, if Treyvor Martin’s mother wrote a book about her son’s death, how much weight could you place to a description of what happened that night?
        * Again, drawing a parallel to the Martin case, just because one party is loudest in the public arena does not mean he is right or knows what he’s talking about…
        * Apparently from Robert’s article, the author does not name the accuser. So clearly, in my mind, she does not feel that she is on enough solid ground to withstand a libel suit (things are much different when the object of libel is NOT famous, the SEAL in question, than what we normally hear about with regards to celebrities).

        • “It’s pretty hard to get confused about whether or not a gun has been pulled on you.”

          For the record, the author said the neighbor claimed he “threatened her with a gun.” I’m not sure that pulling was necessary. Think of all the times in movies where you’ve seen the guy open his coat enough to show his gun in order to induce compliance. That’s a threat, and he never even touched the weapon.

  11. I’ve dealt with an excellent lawyer before. He worked very long hours making sure all his clients were managed properly. But more than that, or the degree on his wall, were the real assets he held as an attorney.
    1. Relationships. He had personal phone numbers of every judge, PO, DA, even warden of the jail on his phone. His relationship with each was personal and went back years. It was a question I asked him that brought this out: who do you know? And the simple truth is we the public don’t know anyone.
    2. History. How many cases has he handled in the past 2 or 3 years just like this one? One or three is not enough, the lawyer I worked with handled sixty in five years.
    3. Reputation. This goes both ways. The guy I used was regarded as a tough sob however he was known for being reasonable at times. In the end he played tough and lived up to his reputation. The prosecutor was fairly new and didn’t respect him. That cost him since the lawyer had a strong reputation the prosecutor lacked.
    4. He is your lawyer, not your friend. After he does his job shake hands And part ways. And understand when he isn’t really needed any longer. You’ll see this eventually.
    5. Meet with him or her periodically but don’t nag or insist on daily updates. I mete him once a month over many many months as the case went on. He would call in between meetings with news or questions. Let him work the problem.
    6. A good lawyer will cure you of lawyer jokes.

  12. I’ve seen this stuff happen before. Unless you’re rich, connected, or able to claim victim status, the legal system will chew you up and spit you out into the gutter.

    My brother made the mistake of going to Nevada with some poorly chosen roommates and their friends who were into some very bad things — meth dealing, check fraud, burglary, theft — and he got swept up in the net when Elko’s Finest hauled them in.

    Some of his so-called friends plea-bargained and ratted out the rest (lumping him in with the criminals). They got out with time served — a couple of weeks. But because he was innocent and wouldn’t plea-bargain, my brother wound up spending several months in jail before the charges got tossed for lack of evidence. To add insult to injury, when he finally got out, they’d stolen almost everything he owned and pawned it. He lost his job and everything — had to move in with me and start from absolute zero.

    In a different time and place, my wife had an intense argument with the principal of our kids’ school, and some ninny in the front office called the police. The principal said he’d have her arrested if she set foot on school grounds again. We said bullshit and dropped our kids off at school as usual. That afternoon a cop showed up at our house with a restraining order. We got a free consultation from a very good local attorney who said we didn’t need his services and showed us how we could work the state school system to make a reconciliation plan and get the order dismissed (who says all lawyers are shady?). It worked and our record is clean, but it cost us a lot of time and aggravation, and was even harder on our kids. Cost to the educational ass-hats who pulled the legal shenanigans? One phone call.

    So, yeah… It’s a system all right, but sometimes there’s no justice in it.

    I guess it could be worse. Unfair though the system is, at least the 4th, 6th, and 10th amendments give us regular schmoes a fighting chance. But not if you run afoul of the Patriot Act (because the Constitution only applies to patriots, and what kind of traitor wouldn’t support the Patriot Act?).

    Sorry everybody, this ran longer than I intended…guess it touched a nerve.

  13. I work woth a guy would probably ve in jail right now had he not gone to the lengths of sellling ALL of his guns. Basically he sold them all after his soon to be x threatened to file a false report against him for threatening her with a weapon. Sure as shit the cops showed up one day to question him; to his wifes detriment he could prove he sold the gun he allegedly threatened her with weeks earlier and no charges were ever filed.

    Sadly the cops seemed too busy to go after her for filing a false report.

  14. A couple people above have mentioned the justice system. Remember, we don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system.

  15. I wonder how many innocent people kill themselves over shit like this? Unless you derive your income from some sort of welfare/financial assistance scheme, you won’t even get a sniff of a P.D.

    So you have few assets. No wife. No kids. No family. No friends who have an extra couple of ten large to hand you with a vague promise of when they’ll get it back. Your job where you live paycheck to paycheck suddenly looks a whole lot less secure. The judicial system simply beating you senseless at every turn.

    And you know you’re 100% innocent of any charges against you.

    • Well, when it’s your next-door neighbor, with whom you have been friends, and you think that a simple apology (“Hey, sorry about that. It wasn’t my intention to offend you.”) will restore your previously tranquil existence, what else are you going to do? This was not a total stranger who they would never see again, after all, it was a friendly neighbor in their home for a meal.

  16. I’m surprised nobody suggested this, but here you go:

    Install a good security camera with audio recording capability covering your front door at a minimum, and preferably all of the entries to your house. When somebody shows up to “discuss” something with you, keep them in view of the camera as your silent witness.

    I quite like the Logitech Alert cameras, personally. HD video, motion triggered, IR capable with built in illuminators, and very sensitive microphones. Not affiliated with them, just a very satisfied owner.

  17. I have been through a situation not entirely unlike this involving trumped up charges over a theft that never took place. I wish like hell I would’ve read this when that happened, this is solid info, and it would’ve been nice to not have to learn this stuff the hard way.
    The hardest thing for me, in my “post-exonerated” life has been how much I now distrust anything and anybody who sets themselves up as authority. I don’t trust my bosses, or most of my co-workers. I hesitate to call the police for just about anything. And I get very uneasy when people I don’t know as more than the usual topical questions. It’s really sad, I felt so often like I HAD done something wrong, even though I hadn’t. I always thought of myself as a “good guy”, and I had never seen myself as someone who would be anything other than as helpful as possible to any officer of the law that needed to ask. Too bad that’s not the way things work, and no matter what kind of person are, if there’s even the slightest nagging doubt in that officer’s mind, or if he just plain doesn’t like you, or he’s pissed you called a lawyer, you are now the enemy where he’s concerned.

  18. All this post and discussion goes to show what a sad state we have come to in this Country. Our legal system was originally based on the concept the “accused is innocent until proven guilty” rather than the European model where the “accused is guilty and must prove their innocence”. Now, it seems we have swung to the onerous European model in practice and the average citizen pays the price. There’s almost no point in being a “Law-abiding Citizen” any longer, especially when you can get so screwed-over by a false accusation. The Police regard everyone as a potential criminal and treat them as such.
    The book provides great practical advice because you’d best be prepared if you get dragged into an outrageous situation as described in the post.

    • What are you talking about? The system is still “presumed innocent.” But presumed innocent or not, you have to process cases when the evidence meets the burden, and that’s what happened here. Looking at the verdict in hindsight to say he was innocent (not so, merely not guilty) or that the DA shouldn’t have prosecuted is nonsense.

      The accuser made an accusation. The police (1st sniff test) looked into it and found enough testimony and evidence to present the case to a DA (2nd sniff test), who in turn presented the lot to a Judge (the 3rd sniff test), who then indicted our much pitied assailant whom we know pleaded not guilty. This means that the next step was, at a minimum in Colorado, a pre-trial conference between DA and the defense. If it was a felony case, it would have gone before a judge for another probable cause hearing.

      Now, DAs don’t like loosing cases, so what do you think the DA would have done if he had not believed he had more than just probable cause (felony or misdemeanor, makes no difference here)? He wouldn’t have bothered going to the judge for a warrant.

      Now, what would *you* have a DA do when he finds that not only there is probable cause, but thinks there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Not in the context of hindsight and a not guilty verdict, like you have now, but at the time that the facts were gathered. “Oh, well, you know, Mr. Gesse, you are presumed innocent, so I should really not press any further”.

      So, what does “presumed innocent” really mean to you? Whether the accusation was false was a matter for the police, DA, and judge to weigh, and ultimately a jury to decide. Here, the first three didn’t see a problem with the credibility of the accuser. But again, just because there is a not guilty verdict does not mean that he didn’t do it. It just mean that the petit jury just had enough doubt to say not guilty. So then, assuming that he isn’t innocent, he got off pretty easily, didn’t he? He may very well have gotten away with threatening his neighbor with a firearm, regardless of what the book says.

      • Thanks for taking the time to provide such a thorough explanation of how the Legal System SHOULD work. I hope some of the others who posted in this thread will read your comment and reconsider what they are saying because the “story” told in the original post just says the wife states the neighbor’s son “falsely accused” Mr. Gesse of the crime he was tried for.

        The fact that Steven Gesse was found Not Guilty means that the Jury found a “reasonable doubt(s)” that the evidence supported the accusation, so that would indicate the evidence was lacking but not necessarily that no crime was committed.

        I have been a Juror on two trials. One Federal Court Prosecution for Bank Robbery, which resulted in conviction. Too long a story to tell here because a “duress” defense was offered that was completely laughable. The other a State Prosecution for reckless driving where myself and several of the Jurors believed the defendant was guilty, but the evidence presented and, more importantly, what we were ALLOWED to consider as evidence by the Court forced us to a Not Guilty Verdict. Left a bad taste in the mouth, but we followed the instructions we were given by the Judge. So it goes.

        So my take on “presumed innocent” is exactly “the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a Court of Law”, which is based on my direct experience with the Legal System.

        The point of the article and the Book is what we have discussed here many times – the average person is ill-prepared to deal with the Legal System and needs some objective advice as to what to do and what to expect if charged with a crime. The points presented in the book represent a good resource and starting point for the General Public.

        The Gesse’s experience with the expense and personal ruin is unfortunate, but not exceptional because the General Public has as many unrealistic ideas and perceptions of the Legal System as the gun control people have about the Second Amendment and Law-Abiding Gun Owners.

        • Agree with you that people are ill prepared to deal with the legal system. From that standpoint, the book may have some redeeming value, for the lessons learned are the same whether one is guilty or innocent.

          What rubs me the wrong way (and should be obvious by now) is the outcry for the ‘poor defendant’. “The Gesse’s experience with the expense and personal ruin is unfortunate” implies he was innocent. But, again, if he was in fact guilty of what he was charged, he got off easy, and arguably the system did work (better one guilty person walk-thing).

          I also agree that the cost issue is problematic, as your ability to weather accusations should not depend on the depth of your wallet. Believe me when I say that false accusations do happen (full disclosure: I’m a Marine Judge Advocate, and have done a stint as defense counsel). It is more than unfortunate that a, false accusations don’t come with a warning that they are in fact false; b, prosecutions against perjury/false accusations aren’t more common (but then the reasonable doubt sword will cut both ways.)

          One level deeper, it bugs me that TTAG’s collective is willing to more than give the accused here the benefit of the doubt, and treat him as clearly innocent, despite having only read an article about a book written by a person who wasn’t there… Hearsay within hearsay anyone?! And why the pass? The only reason I see is not because of his innocence, but because the story of how it may have happened resonates many strings on this forum: distrust of LEO; distrust of the military; distrust of the legal system. Playing on that distrust is exactly how the wife had to package the book in order to sell copies.

        • (This might not show-up in the right place, elnonio, but is a response to your last comment.)
          There really is not enough information to assess Gesse’s situation based on the article. Agreed.

          My original remarks reflected my discomfort with the trend in this post and comments to “convict” the other party of a false accusation and suggest all sorts of punishments, when there was insufficient evidence of that presented, as well. On reflection, my remarks were not well stated for the point I was trying to make. However, it turned-out well in that your response to me addressed the issues better than I could. Sometimes taking a beating is a good thing.

          I understand what you are saying about the TTAG collective’s issues with criticizing Law Enforcement, the legal system and the Military. Some of the vitriol and speculation based conclusions made here don’t sit well with me either, and run counter to my direct experiences. I regard them as part of the overall balance of the discussions. There may be too much focus on the extreme negative incidents and that skews the larger perspective in a negative direction.

          Thanks for your perspective and I look forward to hearing more from you in this forum.

  19. Let’s all try and keep in mind here that a major component of this issue is in the hands of the media as well, which has nothing to do with the legal system. Beyond that, I don’t see any simple solution here. When it’s a he said/she said case with no additional non-testimonial evidence the state will generally side with the accuser unless there’s evidence that he/she is lying. In turn the accused rarely has to prove innocence, they just have to raise reasonable doubt (which, again, can be tricky when it’s one party’s word against another’s).

    Regardless of conviction or acquittal I do hope they sued if the case is as clear cut as the story above makes it seem.

  20. Unless I missed it, I don’t see the name of the lying SEAL anywhere…news reports or otherwise. There’s no defamation when an assertion is true, so why not name names? Perhaps a little public shaming of this so-called SEAL is in order.

    • Exactly. So one of two conclusions is possible. Either the underlying facts have been massaged to create a nice story to sell books (so there was no SEAL, or no family next door), or she is downright lying about what happened (and she know the plaintiff can show it’s a lie by a preponderance of evidence. The evidence may not have been enough for a criminal conviction, but it doesn’t follow that it would be insufficient in a civil suit).

      Either way, libel laws in the US are not very favorable to the plaintiff, so why not go for it and name names? Won’t the publisher, the real deep pockets anyway, be on the hook too anyway? Draw your own conclusions.

  21. We don’t have a legal or judicial system. States routinely ignore entire sections of laws being violated (immigration). We have an extortion system.

    Bankruptcy or plea bargain. Pick the lesser of the evils. My sister had to make that choice, a politically motivated charge by a DA. He wouldn’t drop the charges, and could use all the government resources to delay and draw out the process at no personal cost to him. Dropping the charges would have tended to confirm it was politically motivated. She finally agreed to a plea bargain after her money ran out and her health was rapidly deteriorating from the stress.

    Another thing folks didn’t mention. DA gets assessed on their conviction rates. A plea bargain to a lesser charge is a conviction, dropping the charges isn’t. Which way will they lean if innocence/guilt isn’t clear cut?

  22. In the event this is true, I want the SEAL, who has tarnished his unit’s name to:

    1) Be sued civilly, along with his mother, and drained until bankruptcy.

    2) Be dishonorably discharged

    3) Go to jail

    4) Get raped

    5) Get AIDS

    6) Die

        • IF. I completely acknowledge that the whole SEAL angle might be fake or modified. Maybe the whole thing is made up. However, if what this post describes above is true, as it is written, I stand by numbers 1-5. Although Matt is correct in that 6 is guaranteed on a long enough timeline.

          What kind of human being has the type of character that allows them to:

          1) make a false accusation to the police?
          2) stand behind that lie and attempt to have the convicted while you walk free?

          You pretty much have to have ice water for blood and a lump of coal for a heart. I’m sure the stress of the entire experience took years off the poor victim’s life if this story is true. One serving of a$$ rape with a side of AIDS, for the SEAL please.

  23. I’ve been through something like the author describes, and it taught me four things;

    #1. You never truly know anybody until meeting them in court.

    #2. “You may beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride (unless you’re also a cop).

    #3. Being innocent & having Constitutional rights doesn’t mean squat unless you can pay for them. See #2 above.

    #4. Never reveal your veteran status to the cops, especially an officer with a military class-ring or ink…. even if they ask first. Though you may have once worn the same uniform before; unless you’re wearing blue now, it doesn’t mean shit. Plus, I’ve heard an uncomfortable number of cops admit that they are harder on guys who play the veteran card; because in their minds the suspect: should’ve known better, isn’t really a veteran, or is simply trying to gin up sympathy and leniency.

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