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An unjustified criminal charge can be devastating to an innocent person. Even when criminal proceedings absolve a guiltless person, the stigma attached with detention and accusations of criminal activity can lead to significant economic and non economic losses. Job opportunities are foreclosed. Anxiety, depression and humiliation often follow. This blog explores two of the tort remedies available to the falsely accused in the civil justice system.
The elements of malicious prosecution are: (1) a criminal case was brought against the plaintiff; (2) the criminal case was brought as a result of oral or written statements made by the defendant; (3) the criminal case ended in the favor of the plaintiff; (4) the defendant’s statements against the plaintiff were made without probable cause; and (5) the defendant’s statements were motivated by malice toward the plaintiff. CJI 4th, Civil, 17:1.
The elements of malicious prosecution pose a significant burden to the Plaintiff. As the elements note, the criminal case must be resolved in the favor of the Plaintiff. This means that the case must be dismissed or the plaintiff must be acquitted. Even if the plaintiff is actually innocent, the claim will not succeed if the plaintiff is found guilty at trial. Additionally, the claim must be made without probable cause. Probable cause means that the reporter of the crime must have a good faith and reasonable belief that the Plaintiff was guilty of the offense. It is not enough that the plaintiff is innocent. It must be apparent to a reasonable person that the plaintiff is not guilty of the offense. Finally, it should be noted that prosecuting attorneys generally cannot be held liable for malicious prosecution. See, e.g., McDonald v. Lakewood Country Club, 461 P.2d 437 (Colo. 1969).
False imprisonment is a tort separate from malicious prosecution. The elements of false imprisonment are: (1) the defendant intended to restrict the plaintiff’s freedom of movement; (2) the defendant, directly or indirectly, restricted the plaintiff’s freedom of movement; and (3) the plaintiff was aware that his or her movement was restricted. False imprisonment is viable tort in a number of circumstances. One such circumstance is when an individual levels a false allegation against another leading to an arrest and detention. The defendant must directly or indirectly restrict the plaintiff’s freedom of movement. Accordingly, even if the falsely accused has been detained by the police, the reporting party can be held liable for indirectly restricting the plaintiff’s freedom of movement.
There are several notable affirmative defenses to false imprisonment. Most of the affirmative defenses revolve around the rights of police officers and business owners to arrest or detain individuals suspected of committing a crime. Generally, police officers and shopkeepers have the right to detain individuals that they reasonably believe have committed a crime. Note that a plaintiff can sue the police for false imprisonment. However, the police have a privilege to arrest individuals without a warrant. If the police officer believed and had probable cause to believe that the accused had committed a criminal offense, that officer cannot be held liable for false arrest.
False and unjust criminal
charges can result in devastating losses. Seeking compensation for these losses in the civil justice
arena is complicated and requires competent legal representation. If you or somebody you know
have been falsely accused of a criminal act, contact the attorneys at Bell & Pollock today.
If you or a loved one has been injured, call the law firm of Bell &
Pollock, P.C., 303-795-5900 or www.bellpollock.com and
Denver Injury Attorneys, Champions of the People. You can access all
of our free podcasts on our website, just click on "Bell & Pollock
on the Radio"