Prosecution is the process through which the state brings criminal charges against an individual. Any prosecution must have a foundation of probable cause or reason to believe the individual committed the crimes in question. Additionally, criminal charges exist with the intent of upholding justice. “Malicious prosecution” is a legal term pertaining to any prosecution made without probable cause or for purposes other than bringing an alleged criminal to justice. A victim of malicious prosecution can file action for damages suffered because of the malicious prosecution.
Proving Malicious Prosecution
A malicious prosecution is essentially a baseless accusation brought against an individual for the purposes of harassing or distressing him or her. The plaintiff in a malicious prosecution case must provide evidence for several factors to succeed in a claim. These four elements include:
- Proving the initiator of the prosecution acted in bad faith, or for some other reason other than the pursuit of justice against an alleged offender.
- The resulting proceeding led to a ruling in the victim’s favor.
- There was no probable cause that would have reasonably led to the proceeding.
- The initiator of the proceeding acted with malice toward the victim.
Victims of malicious prosecution face several hurdles in pursing damages for these incidents. First, proving that a police officer or government agent did not have probable cause is usually difficult. The other difficulty lies in the legal concept of qualified immunity. Many law enforcement agencies and government agencies are immune from legal action from private citizens except under extraordinary circumstances. The victim will need to prove that the malicious prosecutor acted outside the scope of his or her position and engaged in willful and unreasonable conduct.
The final hurdle for victims of malicious prosecution lies in state laws. Some states define malicious prosecution and unfair trials differently and will allow a plaintiff to sue for one, but not the other. Additionally, various elements of a malicious prosecution case may lead a judge to dismiss the allegations or allow the plaintiff to file an action for an unfair trial instead. People commonly conflate malicious prosecution with false arrest or false imprisonment. False arrest applies to situations in which someone without the proper authority to conduct the arrest arrests a victim. False imprisonment applies to confining someone against his or her will. Malicious prosecution only applies when someone intentionally misuses the justice system.
Damages for Malicious Prosecution Cases
Generally, plaintiffs in malicious prosecution cases seek to recover any expenses they incur because of the malicious prosecution. This can extend to attorney’s fees, court filing fees, lost income from time spent in prison or being otherwise unable to work, and other compensation. In some cases, plaintiffs can receive compensation for the emotional distress of withstanding an abuse of the justice system. Plaintiffs may also sue for damaged reputation and lost future earning potential.
Anyone who suffers from malicious prosecution needs to act quickly to protect his or her rights. A competent attorney can help a victim of malicious prosecution prove the improper actions of the defendant in question and help the victim secure compensation for such a distressful – and often expensive – ordeal.