Malicious Prosecution

Malicious Prosecution

Legal cases are tried in two primary types of courts, criminal court and civil court. Your case is heard in criminal court if you’re being charged with a crime. However, malicious prosecution is a civil claim. That means that the allegation is heard in civil court if you claim you are being prosecuted maliciously. 

This can be a bit confusing, and understandably so – especially if your claim of malicious prosecution is tied to the criminal case. It’s best to talk to a lawyer and understand if you have a claim for malicious prosecution and how that claim will proceed. But until then, read on for valuable insight into the topic.

What Is Malicious Prosecution in California?

What Is Malicious Prosecution in California?

Malicious prosecution is a tort that can happen in a variety of ways. In general, malicious prosecution happens when a person files a frivolous claim in court against you. A frivolous claim is a completely baseless claim that is filed for an alternate purpose. For example, to harass you or harm your reputation.

Malicious prosecution can happen in a civil or criminal case. In a criminal case, it may occur if you are falsely accused of a crime. In that scenario, you could file a civil lawsuit against the person who made the false accusation. It can also happen if a prosecutor charges you with a crime without probable cause and with malicious intent, such as a personal vendetta.

What Do You Need To Prove in a Malicious Prosecution Lawsuit?

It can be difficult to win a malicious prosecution lawsuit based on a criminal case. To prevail, the plaintiff must prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence.

Lack of Probable Cause 

The first element is that there was a lack of probable cause or basis for the claim. In a criminal case, this means that the prosecutor did not have probable cause to file charges or that the accuser lied about what happened. 

The court will consider this on a case-by-case basis. It is important to remember that probable cause is a low bar. It doesn’t take much evidence to prove probable cause, just a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant has committed a crime.

Malicious Intent

It’s not enough to prove that there wasn’t a basis for the claim. After all, people make mistakes. You will need to show that there was malicious intent in filing the charges. 

A malicious intent means that there was a bad intention, one designed to hurt you, not to bring you to justice. If someone has falsely accused you of a crime, malicious intent may be to:

  • Get custody of children
  • A favorable outcome in divorce court 
  • Harass you or harm you
  • Make you lose your job or housing
  • Weaken relationships with family 
  • Get revenge 

It can be difficult to prove someone had malicious intent, but it is not impossible. 

Winning the Previous Criminal Proceeding

You must demonstrate that the maliciously-prosecuted proceedings ended in your favor. 

Harm and Damages

You must also prove that you were harmed and that there are damages. The harm in a malicious prosecution case may be financial or emotional harm. It might include damage to your reputation, loss of income or housing, or even loss of relationships. 

This is particularly common when someone spends time in jail. In fact, many people assume that if you are arrested, you must be guilty. This assumption is very harmful and goes against the nature of our justice system.

Will My Criminal Charges Be Dropped If I Prove Malicious Prosecution?

Usually, a malicious prosecution case is filed after a criminal case has ended. It often happens once the charges are dismissed in criminal court, or you are found not guilty but a judge or the jury. 

If you are ultimately convicted of the crime, it will be very difficult (if not impossible) to prove malicious prosecution. That’s because there was probably some evidence supporting the charge. If you don’t think it was enough evidence to be convicted, your lawyer will file an appeal instead of a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

You should not count on a malicious prosecution case to solve your criminal legal problems. It’s merely an option to get justice after you’ve unjustly gone through an ordeal. The best way to confront your criminal case is to hire a criminal defense lawyer

Statute of Limitations in a Malicious Prosecution Case 

In general, you only have two years to file a malicious prosecution case in California. However, a recent case held that you only have one year to file if you are filing against a lawyer. 

Since the statute of limitations is ambiguous, you should make sure to consult a lawyer immediately after your criminal case has ended. If you have grounds for a lawsuit, you can get started as soon as possible and protect your legal rights.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer for Help With Your Malicious Prosecution Claim

If you believe that you may have a valid malicious prosecution claim, you’ll almost certainly need an experienced attorney to help you assert your rights. Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation, so you can reach out for some initial legal advice at no cost.