Getting arrested and prosecuted for a crime you did not commit can be traumatic. If this happens as a result of misconduct by law enforcement, you may have a claim for malicious prosecution.
Unlike many other types of tort claims, a malicious prosecution case requires active and willful misconduct rather than mere negligence. The police officers must knowingly intend to take action to pursue a wrongful prosecution.
There must be a criminal case
Generally, to prevail in a New York malicious prosecution claim, a plaintiff must prove four things. First, there must have been an actual criminal proceeding against him or her; just an arrest will not suffice.
Outcome must show plaintiff was innocent
Second, the outcome of the case should establish the plaintiff is innocent of the charges. Usually, this means an acquittal at trial. In other cases, the prosecution may move to dismiss the case in the interests of justice; sometimes, this may serve as an indication the prosecutor considers the charges baseless.
No probable cause
The third element of a malicious prosecution case is lack of probable cause for initiating the criminal case. Even if police officers involved in the case otherwise behave badly, if there would be objectively reasonable grounds to think this person may have committed a crime, a malicious prosecution claim is likely to fail, although the claimant may have other types of recourse for police misconduct.
Finally, the police officers’ actions in commencing the criminal case must stem from actual malice. This eliminates cases where officers may start a criminal case against an innocent person due to stupidity, carelessness or oversight. Typical examples of malicious actions may include purposely lying to prosecutors or judges, fabricating evidence or knowingly leaving out essential facts.
It is important to note that, in many cases, lying to a defendant is not considered misconduct and generally does not serve as a basis for malicious prosecution or other claims.
A plaintiff who prevails in a malicious prosecution suit may be entitled to compensatory damages. These may include emotional and mental suffering, costs of defending the criminal case and any physical repercussions of arrest and detention. A malicious prosecution can also cause financial losses by damaging the victim’s reputation and career. Punitive damages may be available, as such cases involve purposeful wrongdoing.