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Malicious Prosecution

Elements Of Proof, Damages, Other Considerations, Further Readings

An action for damages brought by one against whom a civil suit or criminal proceeding has been unsuccessfully commenced without PROBABLE CAUSE and for a purpose other than that of bringing the alleged offender to justice.

An action for malicious prosecution is the remedy for baseless and malicious litigation. It is not limited to criminal prosecutions but may be brought in response to any baseless and malicious litigation or prosecution, whether criminal or civil. The criminal defendant or civil respondent in a baseless and malicious case may later file this claim in civil court against the parties who took an active role in initiating or encouraging the original case. The defendant in the initial case becomes the plaintiff in the malicious prosecution suit, and the plaintiff or prosecutor in the original case becomes the defendant. In most states the claim must be filed within a year after the end of the original case.

A claim of malicious prosecution is a tort action. A TORT action is filed in civil court to recover money damages for certain harm suffered. The plaintiff in a malicious prosecution suit seeks to win money from the respondent as recompense for the various costs associated with having to defend against the baseless and vexatious case.

The public policy that supports the action for malicious prosecution is the discouragement of VEXATIOUS LITIGATION. This policy must compete against one that favors the freedom of law enforcement officers, judicial officers, and private citizens to participate and assist in the administration of justice.

In most jurisdictions an action for malicious prosecution is governed by the COMMON LAW. This means that the authority to bring the action lies in case law from the courts, not statutes from the legislature. Most legislatures maintain some statutes that give certain persons IMMUNITY from malicious prosecution for certain acts. In Colorado, for example, a merchant, a merchant's employee, or a police officer, who reasonably suspects that a theft has occurred, may detain and question the suspect without fear of liability for slander, false arrest, FALSE IMPRISONMENT, unlawful detention, or malicious prosecution (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-4-407 [West 1996]).

An action for malicious prosecution is distinct from an action for false arrest or false imprisonment. If a person is arrested by a police officer who lacks legal authority for the arrest, the proper remedy is an action for false arrest. If a person is confined against her or his will, the proper remedy is an action for false imprisonment. An action for malicious prosecution is appropriate only when the judicial system has been misused.

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