The legal system is designed to protect
those who are wronged and to prevent persons who did not do wrong from
suffering adverse consequences as a result of wrongful accusations. Sometimes, however, individuals are charged
with committing a crime when in fact they are innocent. The state has a high burden of proof in
criminal cases. It must prove that the
defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In some cases, defendants are charged with crimes not because of
something that they did, but because the “victim” attempts to use the criminal
justice system to make the defendant suffer.
When a person is wrongfully charged with a crime, they may seek to
recover against the person who instituted the criminal proceedings.
claim for malicious prosecution, the plaintiff must prove the following:
- That the defendant instituted or continued
criminal proceedings against the plaintiff.
- That the criminal proceedings terminated in
favor of the plaintiff, i.e., the accused in the criminal case
- That the defendant did not have probable cause
for the proceeding; and
- That the defendant instituted the criminal
proceedings with malice, or a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to
Criminal proceedings are
filed by the state, not by individuals.
It is sufficient for this tort if the defendant directs or requests a
prosecution based on information that they know to be false, or if the person
withholds information which a reasonable person would realize might affect the
decision to prosecute. Liability also
arises where the person gives inaccurate information to a police or
prosecutor. In addition, a person can be
liable for malicious prosecution if that person learns of information that
destroys the probable cause for the prosecution after proceedings have been
commenced, but fails to come forward and give that information to the
Termination of proceedings in favor of the accused may be the
result of the dismissal of the charges at a preliminary hearing, the entry of a
nolle prosequi by the state’s
attorney or a not guilty verdict from a judge or jury.
The absence of probable cause means that the defendant in a
malicious prosecution case acted without any reasonable grounds to believe that
the plaintiff was guilty. A plaintiff
can prove malice by showing that the defendant filed charges with a purpose
other than bringing the accused to justice.
Just because the state enters a nolle
prosequi, however, does not mean that probable cause is lacking. The question of whether probable cause
existed for the filing of the criminal charges is one that must be evaluated on
a case-by-case basis.
Malice is shown when the defendant had a wrongful or improper
motive for instituting criminal proceedings against the plaintiff. It may be, but is not necessarily based on
spite, hatred, personal enmity or a desire for revenge. In a claim for malicious prosecution, the
plaintiff must prove something more than mere negligence on the part of the
defendant. A lack of probable cause by
itself may be sufficient to show malice.
In a malicious prosecution case, the plaintiff can recover both
compensatory and punitive damages. If
you have been the victim of malicious prosecution, we’d be happy to discuss the
specifics of your case with you.
The information contained on this page is
provided as general information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin &
Briscoe, P.C. can assist you if you have, or believe you may have, a claim for malicious
prosecution. We’d be happy to sit down
with you and review your situation and provide appropriate advice. Call today for a no-obligation
consultation. There is no consultation
fee for cases involving personal injury.
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