Nearly every day brings another story of an overturned conviction, and the list of exonerated death row inmates adds several names every year. Just last week, John Bunn, wrongfully arrested and convicted of killing a corrections officer when he was just 14, was exonerated based on tainted evidence produced by a detective who worked on the case.
And while it is nice that wrongfully convicted men and women are exonerated and released from prison, what about compensating them for the mistakes made in their prosecution? Here are four things you need to know about suing the police or prosecutors for being falsely accused and wrongfully arrested, prosecuted, or imprisoned.
Wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution lawsuits are very difficult to win, in part because police and prosecutors are granted a certain amount of legal immunity when it comes to their jobs. This immunity is balanced with a person's constitutional rights, to be sure, but often an improper motive or bad faith can't trump prosecutorial immunity. In most cases, a defendant must show that law enforcement officials both knew they were violating a defendant's rights and acted intentionally.
Even with that immunity, it is illegal for government employees to deprive an individual of their rights under the Constitution. However, this generally applies to situations where arresting officers did not have probable cause to reasonably believe a person had committed a crime at the time of arrest, or the person had a clearly established legal right to engage in the activity that prompted the arrest.
Prosecutors must also have probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime to press charges and bring a case to trial. But claims of malicious prosecution are generally limited only to cases of willful and unreasonable conduct and baseless prosecutions brought against someone to harass them.
Lawsuits based on wrongful imprisonment (should a case come to that) can be brought either by former inmates or their families. The claims can be slightly different, and therefore require different evidence to prove.
If you feel you've been falsely accused or arrested, maliciously prosecuted, or wrongfully imprisoned, you can consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your claims.