A recent Supreme Court decision will make it easier for citizens to sue police and prosecutors in the event of malicious prosecution. A 6-3 decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Amy Coney Barret sided with the court’s three liberal justices, will allow citizens to sue the police in malicious prosecution cases without “affirmative proof of innocence.”
The ruling comes in an unusual case in which a New York man, Larry Thompson, was arrested for resisting arrest during an infant wellness check. Thompson’s sister-in-law called the police to report that Thompson and his wife were abusing their infant child. When EMTs arrived to confront the couple, they had no idea anyone had called the police and told them they must have the wrong address.
EMTs returned later with police, saying they had the right address and that someone had reported the couple for abusing their child. Thompson told the police they weren’t allowed in his home without a search warrant. The authorities then threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, and charged him with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.
The EMTs found nothing wrong with Thompson’s child, aside from mild diaper rash. However, he still spent two days in jail and faced serious criminal charges from the state prosecutor. Authorities offered Thompson a plea deal in which his record would be wiped clean, but he refused, saying he’d been the victim of mistreatment at the hands of the police.
After Thompson refused to play along with the prosecutors, they dropped all charges against him with no explanation. When he brought a malicious prosecution suit against them, a federal court dismissed his case, saying he needed affirmative proof that his innocence had been upheld. According to court precedent, dropped charges aren’t the same as a not guilty verdict.
The Supreme Court took up the case and ruled against this precedent. According to the court majority, a plaintiff doesn’t need affirmative proof of innocence to bring forth a malicious prosecution suit. Instead, any outcome that doesn’t result in a guilty verdict is sufficient to allow the plaintiff to bring their suit to court.
Dissenting justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas wrote in their opinion, “What the court has done is to recognize a novel hybrid claim of uncertain scope that has no basis in the Constitution and is almost certain to lead to confusion.”