The Supreme Court Made it Easier to Sue Cops who Frame You

On April 4th, 2022, the U.S Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, made it easier to sue police and prosecutors for malicious prosecution, or framing. This may seem like one of those “I thought this was always the case” kind of things, but unfortunately, the police have always had a great deal protections from being held accountable.

The case, Thompson v. Clark, peels away one way  the police and prosecutors are protected from accountability, but many barriers to pursuing justice still remain. 

a man in handcuffs after being arrested

How this Case Started

The event that triggered Thompson v. Clark is, oddly enough, a diaper rash. Larry Thompson, the plaintiff in this case, was living with his fiancée and their newborn baby in New York City when he received a knock on the door from EMT officers. The officers were allowed in by Larry’s sister-in-law, claiming that they received a report of child abuse, but saw that the baby was in good hands and left after Larry told them they must have had the wrong address.

The EMT officers left, but returned again with four police officers. Larry answered the door but refused to let them in as they did not have a warrant, as his fourth amendment rights permit him to do so. Instead of leaving and obtaining a warrant, the police officers threw him onto the floor and handcuffed him while the EMT officers examined the baby. Those EMT officers would later find out all the baby had was a diaper rash, and the person who reported the “abuse” was Larry’s sister-in-law, who was mentally ill.

Despite the accusations being clearly false, Thompson spent two days in jail and was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Prosecutors tried to offer him a plea deal, but he refused, and they eventually dropped all charges without explanation.

Thompson's Lawsuit

If you know anything about your constitutional rights, you would know that refusing a search and seizure without warrant or probably cause is your right, and not an obstruction of justice. Thompson understood this, so he sued alleging malicious prosecution. Unfortunately, the precedent in New York appeals court was that he had to prove that his innocence was “affirmed” when the charges were dropped, but his charges were dropped without an explanation.

The case was eventually brought up to the Supreme Court, who then decided that affirmation of innocence is not necessary, but the plaintiff need only show that his prosecution ended without a conviction.

How Will This Impact Future Cases of Police Misconduct?

It is difficult to predict exactly what may arise from this recent ruling, and we don’t want to overstate how significantly this will impact cases against police and prosecutorial misconduct. That being said, this is certainly a development that is a step in the right direction towards holding law enforcement abuse accountable.

Until this decision, there wasn’t really anything you could do if you were framed for a crime and the charges were dismissed. It didn’t matter that getting framed and charged with a crime could cause a tremendous amount of damage to a person even if the charges were dropped later.

Now, prosecutors won’t so easily be able to wash their hands of any wrongdoing on behalf of law enforcement or themselves. If your civil rights are violated by police and you were harmed in the process, you can still hold them accountable even if they changed course and “corrected” themselves down the line.

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