Unwarranted criminal charges are serious legal issues that can be devastating to the innocent person being charged. That being said, there is recourse you can take when this happens. Most often, a wrongfully accused person can make civil claims based on either defamation, malicious prosecution, and/or false imprisonment. Below are these types of claims and the requirements to move forward with them.
Defamation, Slander, and Libel
A defamation claim is based on harmful, false statements that damage a person’s reputation. Such claims are civil in nature.
With this, defamation cases fall under two categories: slander and libel. Slander requires that the defamatory statement is spoken to a third party. On the other hand, libel requires the false statement being written or published somewhere.
In order to move forward with a defamation case, there must be a standard for defamation negligence. This means the defendant must have made a statement he or she knew was false or should have known was false. In this statement, the target must have been clearly identified in either libel or slander, and such libel or slander damaged the target’s reputation.
When wrongfully accused of committing a crime, cases are often considered “defamatory per se” or “actionable per se.” This means damages are viewed as inherent consequences in the eyes of the law, and there is presumed harm to the person’s reputation. The wrongfully accused person must prove the statements were made and that they were false. In turn, the defendant may be ruled liable for any damages stemming from the statement, and the victim of defamation may be entitled to compensation for damages.
Malicious Prosecution and False Imprisonment
A case of malicious prosecution allows a wrongfully accused person to hold someone civilly liable for starting a knowingly false criminal or civil suit against him or her. The allegations must be known by the accuser to not be true, made without reasonable evidence to believe they are true, or made with a wrongful purpose. Additionally, court rulings must be in the favor of the wrongfully accused. This could be used if the person who made the allegations recants their story, or if the wrongfully accused can show an improper motive behind the original claims.
False imprisonment can be coupled with malicious prosecution, where an accuser intended to restrict the accused’s freedom of movement, accomplished restricting the accused’s freedom of movement, and the accused was aware of their restricted movement. The reporting party to the police can also be held responsible for indirectly restricting a person’s freedom of movement.
That being said, not much legal action can be done toward county prosecutors, as district attorneys and other officials generally have immunity, even if someone was wrongfully prosecuted or imprisoned.
- New York City Bar, “False Accusations – Defamation of Character by Libel or Slander.” Available at: http://www.nycbar.org/get-legal-help/article/personal-injury-and-accidents/false-accusations/ (last accessed Sept. 27, 2017).
- AllLaw.com, “Legal Recourse When Falsely Accused of a Crime.” Available at: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/personal-injury/legal-recourse-falsely-accused-crime.html (last accessed Oct. 4, 2017).
- NoLo.com, “Libel vs. Slander: Different Types of Defamation.” Available at: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/libel-vs-slander-different-types-defamation.html (last accessed Sept. 26, 2017).