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What Is Malicious Prosecution?

What Is Malicious Prosecution?

When civil lawsuits or criminal charges are maliciously filed with the intention to harass, intimidate, defame, or cause injuries to another person, actions are referred to as malicious prosecution.

Understanding Malicious Prosecution Claims

Malicious prosecution occurs when one party knowingly and maliciously initiates a baseless claim against another party without probable cause. The claim can take the form of a civil or criminal lawsuit, but the basic cause of action remains the same. While criminal attorneys must establish proof of guilt, attorneys in civil cases must prove quantifiable damages such as costs related to property damages, medical injuries, loss of income, and pain and suffering.

When one party files a malicious prosecution lawsuit against another party, the accused can retaliate with an intentional dignitary tort action. This action allows the accused party to file an injury claim for abuse of process and emotional distress. In some cases, prosecutors pursue civil or criminal actions without just cause, so this tort provides an essential check on claims filed with malicious intent for potential abuses.

In a malicious prosecution claim, courts usually agree on basic requirements of the claim, but some states may vary slightly. Generally, basic requirements include:

  • The original claim was brought with intention to cause harm
  • The original claim was brought without any probable cause
  • The original claim was instigated with malicious forethought
  • The original claim resulted in civil or criminal litigation
  • The civil or criminal litigation caused harm or injury to the defendant
  • The prior litigation was dismissed in favor of the plaintiff

Most states allow recovery for malicious prosecution claims based on civil lawsuits, if the the defendant in the original case can prove malicious intent and lack of probable cause. In general, any criminal proceeding filed with intent to cause harm and that lacks probable cause may give rise to a malicious prosecution claim, even if the claimant was convicted. Even a search warrant issued without probable cause may trigger a malicious prosecution claim by a criminal defense attorney.

Actual damages for a malicious prosecution claim depend on the severity of emotional and physical damages caused to the wrongfully accused. In criminal cases, emotional pain is more severe, if the claim filed with malicious intent resulted in criminal charges and a conviction resulted in jail time. In many cases, a jury finds that the fear of a criminal trial and conviction alone is enough to award damages for severe emotional distress.

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