A court granted a Louisiana woman’s motion to quash the criminal information against her granted in 2007. She was charged with theft after she removed some kitchen equipment from a premises on which she once operated a business. After this outcome she initiated a claim against various parties involved in the prosecution of this case for unlawful searches and seizures, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution. Though her criminal case ended with a positive outcome for the woman, her civil action did not fare well.
When the criminal justice system does wrong by a criminal defendant, the civil justice system provides a few potential remedies. Unfortunately for this woman, she did not meet the standard for receiving such a remedy. Her case did not rise to a level where relief could be granted and had a summary judgment rendered against her. This judgment was upheld by the appellate court.
Proving that a criminal case was investigated, filed or prosecuted improperly is a difficult task. The woman in this case failed to even raise genuine issues of fact in her case. The appellate court held that she did not raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether she abandoned the property from which she removed the items she was eventually accused of stealing. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that Fourth Amendment rights do not reside in places but in people. In order to be protected under that Amendment, a person must have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a given space. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit later held that an individual cannot claim any legitimate expectation of privacy in property once it has been abandoned. The woman’s first unlawful search and seizure claim was defeated by this finding by the appellate court.
The woman in this case’s storage unit was also searched over the course of this investigation and she based her claim of unlawful search and seizure regarding her storage locker on her belief that the affidavit in support of a search warrant materially misstated the terms of the lease under which she possessed the property. The appellate court found that the affidavit included a fair construction of the terms of the lease. The burden for finding an officer liable for making false statements or omissions are relatively high. Statements must be made knowingly or intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth. If a court finds that this is the case and that the statements led to a warrant being issued without probable cause, liability may attach. Omissions must be made with similar intent and must be ignored in making a finding of probable cause.
The woman’s assertion that she was unlawfully arrested was defeated in a similar manner as her other claims. The appellate court found that probable cause for her arrest existed in this case. Only a “fair probability” that a crime was committed is required for an arrest to be effectuated. This burden, while more than a bare suspicion, may not even rise to the fifty percent level.
An absence of probable cause is necessary for a finding that a criminal prosecution was malicious. Since the court found that there was probable cause for the arrest, this claim was defeated. Her claims against the local police were defeated due to the fact that they arose from vicarious liability for the actions of his department. The criminal system requires that the government meet a series of burdens, each one higher than the one before it. There is a burden that must be met in order to search a person or premises. Additionally, there are various burdens that can fulfill this requirement depending on the situation. A higher burden is necessary to arrest a person. Depending on the nature of the offense, the government must file certain paperwork or make showings at other proceedings before going to trial. At trial the government must prove a criminal defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Each of these burdens serves as a barrier to punishing people who are not guilty of the crimes of which they are accused.
Law enforcement officers and officials are granted a great deal of leeway in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. There is a public policy interest in protecting society from crime and mitigating the effects of crime. If police were overly exposed to civil liability for doing their duty, more criminals would likely escape prosecution. Remedies for criminal investigations and prosecutions that go beyond the pale of what is acceptable exist. The burden in these cases is relatively high in order to insulate the criminal justice system from excessive monetary payouts and overly restraining injunctions.
If you think you may have been the victim of malicious prosecution or have been injured in an accident, contact the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005.