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What is malicious prosecution?

by | Aug 3, 2018 | Legal Malpractice |

Most Florida residents likely understand the concept of malpractice as something a professional person does that is illegal or improper. It can also mean something the expert fails to do, such as misdiagnose a medical condition or mishandle a defendant’s case in court. In the legal arena, malpractice can also apply legal actions brought against someone for dubious reasons. It is called malicious prosecution and refers to unfair proceedings against a person in which the charges are groundless.

Legal Dictionary gives an example of malicious prosecution that begins with a county prosecutor who loses his bid to become mayor and believes a local businessman is to blame for sabotaging his campaign. After the election, the prosecutor files charges against the businessman for trying to bribe a town council member, police officer or another public official. Despite a lack of evidence, the allegations, having already been made public, hang over the businessman for several months. During this time, he loses customers while continuing to amass legal fees as his attorney attempts to have the charges dismissed. It takes several months, but he is finally successful in getting them dropped.

The businessman can then file a lawsuit against the prosecutor for malicious prosecution, which includes damages for his loss of business and reputation. To prove malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must establish four elements:

  • The original case ended in the defendant’s favor (the defendant is now the plaintiff in the new suit)
  • The defendant in the new instance (who was the prosecutor in the previous example) was responsible for bringing the charges
  • The defendant had no probable cause to pursue the original case and no real belief in his guilt
  • The defendant filed and pressed the case for reasons that were improper, thereby abusing his power, or through malice or ill purposes

It can be hard to prove a case of malicious intent against a prosecutor due to a certain amount of immunity that both federal and state statutes extend to those who work in law enforcement. All four elements listed above must be proven to win this type of case. Damages in a winning suit can apply to the plaintiff’s attorney fees, loss of wages or business and other costs, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.

The information in this article is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice.