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Published on February 1, 2024

The Psychological Effects of a Wrongful Criminal Conviction

It is not discussed often enough how damaging and difficult it can be to have been wrongfully accused of a crime. Being wrongfully convicted of a crime can have a myriad of psychological effects on an individual’s life. From altered stigmas and reputations surrounding your image to suicidal thoughts and depression, a wrongful conviction should not be taken lightly. Here, we will explore some potential psychological effects of a wrongful criminal conviction and how a lawyer may be able to help.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one psychological effect that is commonly seen with individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime. PTSD, while predominantly experienced by individuals who have been in war or other traumatizing event, is a mental health condition in which an individual has recurring flashbacks, nightmares, and thoughts about the event. PTSD can make it difficult to sleep, negatively affect your mood, and make it difficult to concentrate. Individuals who have been wrongfully convicted may have PTSD related to their incarceration, arrest, or the actual event itself.

Change in Self-Identity

Another commonly seen psychological effect of a wrongful conviction is a loss or change in self-identity. If an individual has been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for a crime, this is in and of itself is a very dehumanizing experience. False convictions and accusations may cause one to think very poorly of themselves and may even convince themselves that they are deserving of the punishment. Once a previously incarcerated individual returns to the “real world,” they are likely going to experience dissociation with both their true selves and society at large.

Anxiety and Depression

Another unfortunate yet prevalent psychological effect of a wrongful conviction is anxiety and depression. An individual experiencing anxiety is likely to experience fear, uneasiness, and lots of worrisome thoughts. Depression, on the other hand, is associated with intense feelings of sadness that results in a loss of interest in everyday activities and a negative outlook on life. Fortunately, treatments including prescription medication and therapy can help an individual experiencing either or both of these mental health conditions.


The stigma surrounding a criminal conviction is very prominent. Just think about it – if you hear that someone is a criminal or felon, you are automatically going to look at them in a different light and perceive them as dangerous and cruel. While these stigmas will definitely ring true for some criminals, it will not apply to all. The stigma around a criminal conviction can be even more damaging and difficult to deal with if the individual was wrongly accused. The unfortunate thing about stigmas and stereotypes is that they are often unchanging, making it difficult for anyone to see you as anything other than a criminal.

Effects on Friends and Family 

While it’s usual to think about the hardships and struggles a wrongly accused individual may be experiencing, most people don’t consider how it can also affect their loved ones. Family and friends of the wrongfully convicted may similarly experience feelings of suffering, helplessness, guilt, and anger. Additionally, the individual who has been wrongfully accused will also likely have missed out on important life events and milestones if they were imprisoned for a considerable amount of time, which can be very difficult for family and friends to grapple with as well. 

How an Attorney Can Help

As we have discussed, being wrongfully convicted of a crime can have a number of psychological effects on the convicted, as well as their loved ones. However, enlisting the help of a Riverside criminal defense attorney can be very advantageous and can help you avoid being wrongfully charged in the first place. A criminal defense lawyer will work to investigate the evidence, strategize against the prosecutor, and fight for the rights and justice you deserve. If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, know that you are not alone if you are experiencing any of these psychological effects. 

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