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Once the charges are dismissed can I sue the accuser and/or the police for false claims?

Once the charges against me are dismissed can I sue the accuser and/or the police for false claims?

Once The Charges Are Dismissed Can I Sue The Accuser And/Or The Police For False Claims?

“Can I sue the police?”

“Can I sue the person bringing false charges against me?”

These are two of the most common questions we get from clients facing criminal accusations. Cohen & Winters does not handle civil lawsuits for false accusations. However, because these are such common questions, we wanted to provide some basic answers.

Little can be more traumatic than being falsely accused of a crime. It can feel like the entire world is against you and even after charges have been dropped or dismissed, your reputation can be irreversibly damaged. Understanding the possibility of suing for false claims once charges against you have been dismissed can be an important part of the healing process. The nuances of such legal actions depend on specific circumstances, including the reasons for dismissal and the nature of the alleged false claims.

Cases involving false claims that lead to lawsuits typically center around wrongful acts such as malicious prosecution, where the accuser maliciously initiates or continues a legal action without probable cause; false arrest, involving the unlawful detention of an individual without proper legal authority; defamation, where false statements harm someone’s reputation; and civil rights violations, which include any action by police or other government officials that infringes on an individual’s rights. Each of these claims requires the plaintiff to prove specific elements, such as the absence of probable cause, the presence of malice, or the direct violation of statutory or constitutional rights, to succeed in court.

When Can I Bring a Case?

While there could be some occasional exceptions, in general a criminal defendant is advised not to bring a wrongful prosecution or false arrest action until their criminal case is resolved. In fact, with a malicious prosecution case, one of the requirements to even bring a case is that the underlying criminal charge was dismissed. This is complicated, and there are many different types of civil action in many jurisdictions, so the advice of a competent lawyer should be sought to understand filing deadlines that might apply in a particular case. Having said that, we most frequently advise our criminal defense clients to focus first and foremost on getting the best possible result in their criminal case.

Understanding the Grounds for Legal Action:

  1. Wrongful Prosecution You may have grounds to sue for malicious prosecution if you can prove that the accuser initiated or continued the criminal process without probable cause and with malice, and the proceeding ended in your favor. Malicious prosecution is a civil action that can only be brought against a private party, such as a person who made a false accusation.
  2. False Arrest: If your arrest was made without probable cause, you might have a case against the police for false arrest, part of a broader claim for false imprisonment. Because the police and other government officials have what is called “qualified immunity”, a case against them is much harder to bring, and requires a much higher burden of proof, than a case against a private citizen who intentionally makes a false claim.
  3. Defamation: If the accuser made false statements about you that were published or communicated to a third party, causing damage to your reputation, you might have a defamation claim.
  4. Civil Rights Violations: Actions by the police that violate your civil rights, such as unlawful search and seizure or excessive force, can be grounds for a lawsuit under federal law (42 U.S.C. § 1983).

Considerations Before Taking Legal Action:

  • Evidence and Probable Cause: It’s important to differentiate between a baseless accusation and one where there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed, even if the charges were later dismissed.
  • Immunity Issues: Prosecutors and, to some extent, police officers enjoy immunity from certain legal actions as long as they’re performing their official duties. Overcoming this barrier requires clear evidence of malice or a gross violation of statutory duties.
  • The Burden of Proof: The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit rests on the plaintiff. You must provide clear and convincing evidence that the accuser or the police acted without probable cause, with malice, or violated specific statutes or rights.
  • Potential Outcomes and Damages: Assess the potential outcomes, including monetary damages for lost wages, legal costs, and emotional distress, and non-monetary outcomes like the expungement of the arrest record.

Steps to Consider:

  1. Consult with a Qualified Attorney: An experienced attorney can provide a comprehensive evaluation of your case, outlining the strengths, weaknesses, and potential legal strategies.
  2. Gather Evidence: Collect all relevant documentation, including police reports, court documents, communications, and any evidence of damages you suffered as a result of the false claims.
  3. Consider the Implications: Pursuing legal action can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. It’s essential to consider the impact on your personal and professional life.
  4. Alternative Resolutions: Sometimes, alternative resolutions, such as mediation or a settlement, might be preferable to litigation, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Suing for false claims after charges have been dismissed is a complex legal matter with many nuances. While it’s possible to seek justice and compensation for the wrongs you’ve suffered, such actions require careful consideration and strategic planning. Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first step towards understanding your rights and options in pursuing legal action against accusers or law enforcement agencies in New Hampshire.

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