False arrest and malicious prosecution are concepts that most people do not really consider in their day to day lives-until they are put into this situation themselves. If you believe that you have been improperly arrested or maliciously prosecuted during an engagement with the police, it is critical to know the differences between these types of interactions. This equips you with the knowledge you need to properly seek the justice that you deserve and respond correctly in the aftermath. Here is what you need to know about how malicious prosecution and false arrest are different.
For prosecution to be considered under the law, it must fulfill four categories:
- The defendant (in this case, the prosecutor alleged to have committed the malicious prosecution) must have actually started the prosecution in the court system. If not, there is no case, and malicious prosecution cannot occur.
- The outcome of the case must be one that the plaintiff (that is, the victim) finds agreeable, or at least one that doesn’t harm them. Otherwise-such as if the plaintiff is found guilty-the prosecution is not malicious, because it will have been found justified.
- The prosecution must have been done with no probable cause.
- The prosecution must have been instituted with malice. If there is no evidence of malice, or malicious intent, then there is no malicious prosecution.
So, what is malice? In this kind of situation, it means that someone’s main reasoning for pursuing the case is something other than the correct reasons to do so, which are to honestly try to enact justice and ensure guilty parties receive their punishment and to uphold the law.
It is important to remember that less straightforward situations can still count as malice. Failing to disclose important information that could change the outcome of the trial is a common variation of this. If an officer arrests someone with probable cause, discovers evidence that the person they arrested is not guilty after all, and then withholds that information and lets the proceedings continue, then that officer may be considered guilty of malicious prosecution.
Finally, if an officer is engaged in actions that constitute malicious prosecution-a magistrate giving them a warrant does not do anything to the charges they may face. This rule applies in situations where a normal officer would see that there is no probable cause, lie in the legal proceedings or leave out important information.
False arrest (or unlawful arrest, or false imprisonment) is a step below malicious prosecution in terms of the relative severity of crimes, though both are punishable.
A false arrest also consists of four categories that must apply to the given situation:
- First, the arrest must be made with no legal justification. To arrest someone, a police officer must have either probable cause (a strong, evidence-based suspicion that the person has committed a crime) or a warrant.
- Second, the arrest must be made on purpose; accidentally keeping someone from leaving because, for example, they are blocked into a parking lot by an act of God does not constitute false arrest.
- Third, the arrest must be made using means that the person does not feel they should disregard, whether that is actions or words.
- Fourth, the person being arrested must understand that they are being arrested.
False arrest has nothing to do with what happens in court, and in fact, it can still occur even if a case is never brought to the courtroom. Malicious prosecution, by its very nature, must be part of a court case because that is when prosecution starts.
Unlike malicious prosecution, false arrest may be done unintentionally, or without the goal of causing harm to the person being arrested. It is entirely possible that malice, profiling or another illegal motivator could cause someone to arrest someone unlawfully, but it may just as easily happen with correct intentions but the wrong process.
Where malicious prosecution must, by nature, include malice, false arrest could occur if an officer arrests someone while believing that they are doing the right thing, even though there is no probable cause. Another difference between the two is that false arrest is often simply the first step in the chain of events linked to malicious prosecution.
Seek Legal Assistance If You Believe You Have Been Wronged
Whether you suspect that you were a victim of false arrest, malicious prosecution or other improper conduct by a police officer, it is critical that you reach out for legal help as soon as possible after the incident. The attorneys at The Brown Firm would be happy to help you explore your options and seek the justice that you deserve. Contact us to schedule a consultation and learn more.