In response to a recent question and others related to it, it appears that defendants who are found guilty, despite lying, are rarely punished further apart from the conviction.

However, what happens if the allegations are found to be patently fabricated? The most controversial case of this would be in accusations of sexual assault. In this case, the defendant is acquitted, but how often does the complainant, whose complaints are found to have been concocted for vindictive purposes, face consequences for making the false complaint?

  • 35
    Acquittal does not mean that the complaint was false. It means that there wasn't enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
    – PJB
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 20:22
  • 8
    @PJB sorry for not making the question clearer but it is intended to be specifically about cases where the allegations are found to be fabricated. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 14:36
  • 1
    @Seekinganswers But how would the allegations be "found to be patently fabricated"? That's not a finding that it's open for the trial of the original allegations to reach, so it could only happen if there were a subsequent trial of the original complainant for some crime or tort, and the answer to your question as now formulated is therefore "at least 100% of the time". Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 17:46
  • 1
    @DanielHatton I think I’d disagree; it depends what reason there is found to be reasonable doubt of the alleged assailant’s guilt. If the reasons cited for a verdict are that evidence was presented that completely refuted all of the complainants claims in exonerating the alleged assailant, then it would also simultaneously demonstrate that the complainant was very likely fabricating their claim. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 21:12
  • 5
    @Seekinganswers Juries in the US aren't asked to give a reason for the verdict. Look up "sample jury verdict form". Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 22:15

5 Answers 5


Prosecutions for falsely reporting rape are at least as common as perjury convictions (and usually don't count as perjury since the initial report is rarely made under oath), and even when charges are brought by prosecutors involving false statements made under oath, prosecutors tend to favor lesser misdemeanor false reporting charges over perjury charges. See, e.g., cases with news reports of such cases in Colorado and Wyoming on May 24, 2021, September 11, 2015, August 29, 2014, and March 18, 2008.

This isn't to say that these cases are terribly common although they tend to generate headlines when they are brought. The State of Colorado commenced 1,801 felony sex offense cases in the 2021 fiscal year, for example, which was not atypical, and false reporting of sex offense cases are brought in Colorado maybe once every year or two.

The conviction rate in sex offense cases that are prosecuted isn't 100%, but something on the order of 90%-95% of sex offense cases result in a guilty plea, and well over half of the remaining cases result in convictions at trial. As an order of magnitude estimate, perhaps one in fifty to one in two hundred cases where sex offense charges are pursued, but there is not a conviction, gives rise to false reporting charges against the alleged victim.

Many acquittals and dismissals of charges that do occur are best characterized as cases where there is a reasonable doubt because jurors believe that it is reasonably possible that there may have been a good faith witness misidentification, or because charges were dismissed because a confession or evidence obtained in a search was unlawfully obtained and had to be suppressed. It would be very rare for a defendant to be acquitted (after a judge in a preliminary hearing found that probable cause was present) because the jury believed that the testimony of a victim was believed to be intentionally false, and there is no way to tell from the verdict itself that the jury reached this conclusion.

The problematic aspect of charges of false reporting of sex offenses is the there have been famous instances of women being convicted for falsely reporting rape (see also here focusing on a different case), only to subsequently have the allegations for which the victims were punished confirmed to be true with DNA and other evidence.

The number of cases where true allegations of sex offenses are made but not pursued because law enforcement finds the allegations to not be credible, almost surely greatly exceeds the number of cases where false reports of sex offenses are made to police, although this ratio varies greatly from one police department to another based upon the institutional culture of the police department in question.

  • 11
    "something on the order of 90%-95% of sex offense cases result in a guilty plea" - Isn't that the average for the US justice system though? Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 7:48
  • 2
    @AmiralPatate It is. Conviction rates for sex offense cases aren't exceptionally high or low. The point of mentioning that is to get a ballpark estimate of the number of acquitted people who were charged with sex offenses to put the number of false reporting cases into perspective.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 14:54
  • 4
    As a political matter; just as we must not convict the accused based on evidence that someone committed the crime with poor evidence of identification, we must not prosecute the victim because the identification was poor. If the crime happened the complaint is real even though it's pointed at the wrong party.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 19:32
  • 1
    I think you could clarify the "jury believed beyond a reasonable doubt" a bit. The jury merely needs to have a reasonable doubt in the testimony to come back with an innocent verdict, and as structured this (more common situation) is sort of hard to spot as you only mention the more extremer "jury believes the accuser is lying beyond a reasonable level of doubt" (which, as an aside, the jury is not asked to do). Ie, stress the middle case?
    – Yakk
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 19:47
  • 1
    @Yakk The point I am making is that the jury will only rarely subjective believe what would be necessary to prosecute and convict someone of false reporting even when they fail to convict.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 20:35

This (like most of the other answers) is answer to an earlier version of the question.

I note you are asking about complaints that lead to acquittals. This requires the prosecution to bring a charge and to proceed to trial and to a verdict. The denominator in any analysis is thus restricted to the number of trials that arrived at a verdict that was an acquittal.

In sexual assault cases that result in an acquittal, it generally isn't the case that the acquittal is because the complainant's evidence is discovered to be false, let alone a lie or perjury.

In a sexual assault prosecution, acquittal will result simply from the Crown failing to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt does not equate with the complainant's evidence being found false. And even if it somehow were found that the complainant's evidence were not true, that could be for many reasons short of perjury.

Given this understanding, in the circumstances where a complainant has been found to have knowingly provided false testimony, the answer will simply be a subset of the answer here: How common actually are perjury proceedings?. ohwilleke's answer concludes, "perjury prosecutions are almost never brought."

  • 3
    Indeed, if the complainant lies, it is less likely that the case will go to trial at all. Prosecutors are not meant to bring cases unless they reasonably believe they can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the complainant lies, the prosecutor has a good chance of discovering it long before charges are brought, and it will also be harder for the prosecutor to come up with corroborating evidence of something that didn't actually happen.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 23:02

Within the US, criminal trials generally end in one of two ways - "Guilty" or "Not [Proven] Guilty". There is no "innocent" finding. As a result, many defendants are believed to be guilty regardless of the verdict. For some crimes, such as sexual offenses, or for some professions, the accusation alone may be enough to ruin a career or life. For example, even dismissed charges can prevent a teacher from being allowed to have a teaching certificate. Servicemembers and police accused of domestic violence are often unable to carry a weapon and may face repercussions even if acquitted.

Correcting the damage done to the reputation of such an individual, particularly those which carry a lasting stigma, is a job most often performed by the civil courts. There, the former defendant can sue their accuser, seeking redress for the accusations. Prosecuting the accuser for perjury/false statement/false report would, in many cases, be superfluous since the civil court has a lower standard of proof and is ideally better able to "balance the scales" - taking money from the guilty party and giving it to the harmed party, rather than putting the guilty party in jail and/or making them pay a fine to the state.

Of course, a fair number of accused, having spent months to years going through the justice system, just want to "put it all behind them" - or are actually guilty and don't want to risk the further shame of being publicly proven to have, say, gotten away with murder by attacking their accuser.

Statistics here seem to be hard to come by for a layperson, though it seems that there is a paywalled 1980 study in the American Law Journal which looked at 534 defamation cases between 1976 and 1979. There is another report (cited by Wikipedia) which identifies that there were 16 criminal defamation cases from 1965-2014 with a final conviction, but no numbers for civil defamation cases due to those statistics not being gathered and published by the American court system.

  • 3
    Reading about that woman who made false rape allegations against three different cops (including a department chief no less) makes it pretty clear she got away with it with little harm to herself. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 13:22
  • 2
    Addressing this through civil courts requires the original defendant to have the financial means to take this action. Even if they can get reimbursed for their costs, that requires them to win, which is a big risk.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 15:43

what happens if the allegations are found to be false?

what happens if the allegations are found to be patently fabricated?

how often does the complainant ... face consequences for making the false complaint?

In the course of the prosecution of the accused — never.

That is because when someone is accused of a criminal offence, the allegations are never found to be false or "patently fabricated". Instead, they are found to be either:

  • True beyond reasonable doubt ("guilty" verdict); or
  • Not true beyond reasonable doubt ("not guilty" verdict)

The latter is not the same as "false" — pretty much as "not guilty" is not the same as "innocent". It just means that there isn't enough certainty in the allegations to convict the defendant.

Acquittals may also happen before the case progresses to trial — if the charges get dismissed for outright insufficiency of the evidence for a possible conviction. Again, this doesn't mean that the allegations are false — only that they won't possibly prove to be true beyond reasonable doubt.

The only typical recourse for the acquitted is to initiate a civil proceeding against the complainant. Then they might be able to prove on the balance of probabilities (preponderance of the evidence in the US) that the accusations were false / patently fabricated / concocted for vindictive purposes and fetch some compensation.

Another one might be to initiate a private prosecution for perjury (in the UK, Canada, New Zealand). But this time the assertion that the accusations were false (while claimed to be true from the witness stand) needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

  • I'd add that the idea of "Not Guilty" meaning "The crime didn't happen" also isn't necessarily the same; in a case of a hypothetical murder where an accused is acquitted on DNA evidence after the initial trial...doesn't mean that a murder didn't take place - it just means that the accused didn't murder the other person. That's significantly different than "The accuser lied about there being a murder at all". Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 23:22
  • you seem to be focusing on the verdict. The question is talking about the actual facts that were alleged.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 15:44
  • @Barmar I'm just rebutting the assumption that the question sits on (that the complaints can be found "false"). Given the assumption is wrong, the question itself should dissolve.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 21:06
  • I guess this hinges on who is doing the "finding". I didn't interpret it as meaning the court, but an investigator, lawyer, etc.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 21:11
  • 1
    @Barmar Well, if the defendant is convicted that pretty much scraps any possible case against the accuser because the allegations are found to be true beyond reasonable doubt. It's the opposite that doesn't work.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 21:41

However, what happens if the allegations are found to be patently fabricated? The most controversial case of this would be in accusations of sexual assault. In this case, the defendant is acquitted, but how often does the complainant, whose complaints are found to have been concocted for vindictive purposes, face consequences for making the false complaint?

What you are suggesting would be a horrific injustice.

The government decides to bring a criminal prosecution, not the complainant or the alleged victim.

The government decides the strategy of the criminal trial. The government decides what charges to file. The government decides what theory of the crime to argue to the jury. The government decides what evidence to present. The government makes the closing argument. The government cross examines the defendant if they testify.

Your suggestion to punish the complainant if the government fails makes absolutely no sense at all and is completely inconsistent with any sane concept of justice.

For your suggestion to make any sense, those making accusations against the defendant would have to have a much different role in the trial. That would take away from the purpose of the trial -- to establish whether or not the prosecution can prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

For the prosecution to bring the charges in the first place, they'd have to be convinced that they could prove that the accusation was true beyond any reasonable doubt. It's hard to imagine how they could then think they could prove that the accusation was false beyond any reasonable doubt just because they lost their case. That would have to be some truly unusual, and therefore very rare, circumstances. We should expect this to almost never happen.

  • I'm struggling to see how this answer relates to the quote from the question. In particular, I really, really don't think that OP is suggesting that we should "punish the complainant if the government fails". As I understand it, the question is along the lines of: "if a person makes up accusations that lead to a prosecution which fails, and if there is sufficient evidence that the person did indeed make up those accusations, then how likely is it that that person will be prosecuted?" Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 15:12
  • 1
    What do you think the question is talking about when it says that the "complaints are found to have been concocted for vindictive purposes"? How do you think an acquittal makes that process more likely or more possible than it was before the trial? The question is saying that somehow an acquittal should cause us to think the complaints are more likely to have been fabricated or malicious. Buf it the prosecution didn't think so when it brought the case, why would it think so after it lost the case? Would they be looking for someone else to blame? Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 19:02
  • "The question is saying that somehow an acquittal should cause us to think the complaints are more likely to have been fabricated or malicious": no, I'd argue that the question is merely suggesting that it's something that may occasionally happen. But this is all a matter of interpretation, and it's clear that you and I are interpreting the question very, very differently! But that is the purpose of websites like this, after all. Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 21:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .