Fighting back against malicious prosecution

black woman in handcuffs

In a nutshell, Malicious prosecution happens when someone — either a police officer or a private citizen — maliciously causes judicial process to commence (often through criminal charges or a civil lawsuit) against you without evidence or probable cause, and with malice. If this has happened to you and the case was decided in your favor, you may be able to file a malicious prosecution lawsuit against that party if you suffered any damages. The laws are slightly different based on whether a federal claim or a state claim is pursued, and whether a government official or private citizen caused the harm. Generally, the claim was put in place to prevent abuse of the legal system. For both federal and state claims in Colorado, you have two years to file a lawsuit for malicious prosecution, which time period begins when the case that was wrongfully initiated is terminated in your favor (i.e. when the case against you is dismissed).


What is required to sue a police officer for malicious prosecution?

The main requirement when filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit is being able to prove that the case against you was filed without an adequate evidentiary basis (usually, without probable cause) and that it was brought maliciously. Maliciously means that the officer knew or had clear and obvious information that showed you did not commit the crime, but charged you anyway, with reckless disregard for the truth. Malice can also mean the officer charged you because of his/her own ulterior reasons — a reason other than to bring a guilty offender to justice. For example, a police officer might charge you with something you didn’t do because you threatened to turn them in for abusing their power or violating a law. Or they might file false charges for discriminatory reasons based on race or gender. Or they could charge you with resisting arrest or obstruction to attempt to justify/cover-up their own illegal use of excessive force. Whatever the reason, these kinds of charges may violate your Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure, and unlawful imprisonment.

In order to file a malicious prosecution claim against law enforcement officers under the Fourth amendment, you must be able to prove five things (Wilkins v. DeReyes, 528 F.3d 790, 799 (10th Cir. 2008):

  1. The officer caused or continued to cause you to be confined (imprisoned) or prosecuted.
  2. No probable cause supported the original arrest or continuing prosecution.
  3. The criminal case ended and was decided in your favor.
  4. The officer acted with malice.
  5. You sustained injuries as a result.

What damages can you claim from malicious prosecution?

Even if the charges filed are baseless, you still must defend yourself against them and that costs time and money. Court cases can drag on for years and attorney fees can pile up. And even if you win the case or it get dropped, you still (in most cases) must pay your lawyer.

Additionally, you might face public shaming and scrutiny because of the charges. Say a police officer falsely charges you with having illegal drugs in your car. Even if the case is decided in your favor, there may have been press on the case that has damaged your reputation and lost you clients. If you spent time in jail because of the charges, you probably suffered lost wages and maybe lost your job altogether. Again, these cases can often drag on for years and you could suffer emotional damage as well as professional and financial damages.

Either way, the malicious charges have harmed you and you have a right to seek compensation for that.


Suing prosecutors for malicious prosecution

man in jail, arrested, prisoner abuse

It is much more difficult to sue prosecutors for malicious prosecution because they are protected by prosecutorial immunity laws that shield them from lawsuits. These laws are designed to enable them to do their job without constantly worrying that they are going to be sued by every defendant. But there are limits to those laws and if you can prove that a prosecutor acted outside the scope of their prosecutorial decision-making and didn’t have probable cause for charges to be advanced against you, you might have a case. However, such claims are most often filed against the involved officers — who gather and present evidence at the time of arrest — and not the prosecutors.

In 2020, Colorado passed a law that allows for a state-based causes of action for civil rights violations without qualified immunity protection for police officers and now some lawyers and lawmakers are pushing for a limit to prosecutorial immunity protections as well.


An example of a malicious prosecution case

In February 2017, Juan Valenzuela was accused by Denver Police of using a fake ID while attempting to catch a flight at Denver International Airport. The ID had been through the wash so it was slightly damaged, but it was not fake. Valenzuela worked as a prison guard and offered other forms of ID, including his work ID that had a photo. He even had his supervisor at the prison call and verify his identity. But the officer simply decided that the ID felt fake and arrested Valenzuela without doing the proper research. Valenzuela spent a couple days in jail and then lost his prison job because the Denver DA decided to prosecute him and the prison couldn’t employ him until the felony case against him was resolved. It was several months before the prosecution did the necessary research and determined that his ID was valid and dismissed the case. By this time, Valenzuela has suffered financial losses from being out of work and emotional stress as well. The Civil Rights Litigation Group represented him in his case against the Denver Police officer and he was awarded $500,000.


How do you fight back?

If you have been wrongly prosecuted and believe your case meets the requirements, you should contact a Colorado attorney as soon as the wrongful case against you has been dismissed in your favor. Do not take a plea bargain if you believe the charges are without basis, as that would not lead to the required “favorable termination.” Call and seek advice if you are unsure whether a criminal resolution you have been offered will fit within the requirements to preserve your case.

The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully fought malicious prosecution claims many times before and can help you vindicate your rights while seeking damages. Call us for a free consultation.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.


Related blog posts:

Know your rights when questioned by the police

When is recording conversations legal in Colorado?

Police misconduct and your civil rights

How do I fight illegal search and seizure in Denver?

Record the police and protect your rights

One of the best things to happen for civil rights cases has been the cell phone video camera. Before cameras were in every cell phone, cases against the police often came down to “he said, she said” and the courts and juries often sided with the police. Eyewitnesses can be mistaken but videos rarely lie. If you are ever in a situation with the law, take the opportunity to respectfully record the police and protect your civil rights.


Is it legal to record the police?

If you are in a public place and don’t do anything to interfere with the police, the First Amendment gives you the right to record them while they are working. Not only is it about your personal rights, but it also involves the public’s right to know how public servants are behaving on the job. For example, in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the right to record. “We ask much of our police. They can be our shelter from the storm,” wrote Judge Thomas Ambro. “Yet officers are public officials carrying out public functions, and the First Amendment requires them to bear bystanders recording their actions. This is vital to promote the access that fosters free discussion of governmental actions, especially when that discussion benefits not only citizens but the officers themselves.”

While the right to record the police has not yet been affirmed by the Supreme Court, a prevailing weight of the academic and legal community have affirmed it, including six out of 12 circuit courts in the U.S. These and many other district courts have recognized this right and agree that recording the police is legal under most circumstances. Cases are currently before other circuit courts, including the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, to address the issue and will likely lead to full consensus. The Civil Rights Litigation Group currently has several cases that rely on the prevailing weight of circuit authority in asserting the right.


Why should we record the police?

The videos that have come out in the past few years have shed some much-needed light on the actions of the police and their willingness to lie to protect themselves. The George Floyd case is a perfect example as the initial police reports paint a very different picture than what was shown in the videos. Had the incident not been recorded, it’s possible that those officers would still be on duty. The videos taken that day not only showed the public the truth but ended up being instrumental in the officers being held accountable for Mr. Floyd’s death.


When is it legal to record the police?

There are two places where you have the right to record the police: when they are on public property or when they are on your personal property. When a police officer is in public, they have no expectation of privacy and therefore you have the right to record their actions so long as you don’t harass them or obstruct them in any way. It’s best to quietly stand on the sidelines at least 15 feet away so that there is no reasonable argument that you are somehow interfering with their duties. There have been several cases where courts have ruled people can secretly record the police, but clearly exercising your right with a phone in clear view may also deter them from coming after you. When you record police, it is always best to do so safely.

It’s also important to note that you can only record the police when they are on duty. If you happen to see them off duty but in public, don’t record them. Like you, they have some rights to privacy when they aren’t working.


What to do when you record the police

  • Most important, do not interfere with them at all. Keep a safe distance away and don’t harass or yell at them. If an officer asks you to move back, take a few steps backward to demonstrate that you intend to record without interference.
  • Keep your phone in full view so they are aware they are being recorded. People tend to behave better when they know their actions are being recorded and it’s better to prevent bad behavior than go to court over it, unless your purpose is to catch them lying or engaged in unlawful behavior.
  • Stay calm and courteous. Remember that anything you say will also be recorded. On that note, try to stay as quiet as possible so that any audio of the police can be heard on the recording.
  • If the police ask you to move for safety reasons, comply but keep recording. Ask them why you are being asked to move and how much the officer is asking that you move so that it is recorded and noted that you are obeying them. Again, remember to stay calm and courteous.
  • Barring extenuating circumstances, remember that a police officer cannot search your phone without a warrant, even if they arrest you. You are not required to give them your password or delete anything just because they tell you to.
  • If it looks like the police might confront you about your recording, email it to someone you trust immediately. This way you can preserve a copy of it in case they do try to delete it. Don’t email it to yourself because they could delete that from your phone if they gain access to it. The ACLU offers an application that allows you to turn on your video recorder with one tap and it also automatically uploads the video to the ACLU once the recording stops so that it cannot be deleted. See their website for details.
  • Know when to walk away. Remember that just because you have the right to record them doesn’t mean they might not still act out against you. If they order you to do something, don’t put yourself in danger just to make a point. But if they do take action against you, it may be even more important to keep recording so that you can prove that they forced you to stop recording, turned off your phone, took your phone, or otherwise did something that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from exercising their First Amendment right to record.
  • Finally, if you do end up recording something important, don’t post it online or on social media because it could end up hurting the case. It’s best to show it to an attorney first because they will know how to use it and how to properly get the media involved without risking libel or slander.


What to do if your rights have been violated by the police

If the police have mistreated you or violated your civil rights, it’s important to speak to an attorney who is familiar with these kinds of cases and dealing with the police. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has handled numerous cases involving police misconduct and we know how the system works. Call us for a free consultation and we can discuss your case.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.


Related blog posts:

Know your rights when questioned by the police

When is recording conversations legal in Colorado?

Police misconduct and your civil rights

How do I fight illegal search and seizure in Denver?

Anti-discrimination and the laws that protect you

man in wheelchair working with woman, medical indifferenceRegardless of whether you are a member of a protected class or not, it’s important to understand the anti-discrimination laws and how they have changed over the years. In Colorado, the main one is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). It originally passed in 2013 and additions to it went into effect on January 1, 2015. The main difference between CADA and the federal anti-discrimination laws is that CADA applies to all Colorado employers no matter how few employees they have. Most of the federal laws only apply to employers with at least 15 employees.


What does the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act cover?

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin or ancestry. It also guarantees equal access to public accommodations and housing. Public accommodations include most businesses that offer products or services to the public, such as restaurants, retail stores, health clubs, and even hospitals and clinics. In Colorado, it’s illegal for one of these places to deny someone the available goods and services because they are a member of any of the protected classes listed above. The part of the law that covers housing protects those same people from discriminatory financing, refusal to rent, unequal terms and conditions, failure to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and retaliation for exercising these rights.

Some of the changes that were added in January 2015 include:

  • Employees can now file discrimination lawsuits under state law vs. federal law.
  • In addition to back pay and equitable relief (i.e. reinstatement), employees can now seek to recover punitive and compensatory damages such as emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience and other losses not directly relating to or consisting of money (a.k.a. non-pecuniary losses).
  • The courts now have the discretionary power to award aggrieved employees attorneys’ fees, as well as various fees and cost associated with the actions.
  • Employers may be awarded attorneys fees and costs, but only if the court deems the case to be groundless, vexatious, or frivolous.
  • Either the employer or the employee can now demand a jury trial.
  • To be more in line with federal age discrimination law, there is no longer a maximum age for employees to make a discrimination claim.


What is the process for filing anti-discrimination complaints?

With all of these new laws, it is important to remember that there is a statute of limitations (time limit) from the date of the last alleged discriminatory and/or retaliatory act for when you must file a complaint:

  • Employment filing deadline: six (6) months from the act of alleged discrimination (possibly up to 300 days for federal matters)
  • Housing filing deadline: one (1) year from the act of alleged discrimination
  • Public Accommodations filing deadline: sixty (60) days from the act of alleged discrimination

Therefore, if you feel that you have been discriminated against, it is important to act fast. If you choose to file a complaint yourself, you can read the steps for the Complaint Process online with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, under the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA. There are different filings that need to happen before these deadlines, so it is important to start as early as possible. And whether you file yourself or get legal representation, know that the Division has 270 days to complete their administrative process (with 90-day extension requests available to both parties) so it can take a while to resolve.


Who can help me with anti-discrimination lawsuits?

The other option is to consult an attorney who is experienced with not only the deadlines and filing procedures, but also all of the state and federal anti-discrimination laws that may apply to your case. If you believe you are the victim of discrimination, it’s important to act quickly and to gather as much evidence as you can, and then contact a local civil rights attorney who can advise you on your case. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many anti-discrimination cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.

Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.

Related blog posts on this topic:

How to spot workplace discrimination

Speaking up about workplace discrimination

Sexist language and subtle discrimination

Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

I filed an age discrimination lawsuit: What questions will I be asked?

What proof do I need for age discrimination lawsuits in Colorado?

What is the burden of proof in a religious discrimination lawsuit

Discrimination in Denver

Is it discrimination? A few questions you need to ask

What are your civil liberties and civil rights?

Protest with people fighting for civil liberties and civil rightsWe often hear people talk about civil liberties and civil rights and how they are being violated, but do you actually know what they really are and what they afford you as an American? Simply put, they are the personal rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws enacted by Congress. They are designed to recognize the free-decision making required for individual autonomy and provide all Americans equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law regardless of race, religion, gender, age, or other personal characteristics. Aside from the rights and liberties expressly spelled out in the Bill of Rights, they include things like the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

In the U.S., federal and state law has been enacted to prohibit discrimination based on protected-class characteristics (such as race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability, etc.) when it comes to things like education, employment, access to public assistance and facilities, housing, or healthcare, just to name a few. The great thing about our Constitution and our system of laws is that it’s possible to make changes over time to correct or add things the original framers didn’t necessarily take account of or which were against social norms in the 1700s. One big example is slavery, which was still legal in 1776 and widely practiced in the South. That civil rights change only came about because of the Civil War and even then people have had to continue to fight so that people of color would eventually be given the same rights and the same treatment as others. Other civil liberties and civil rights have been secured either by new legislation or court cases providing precedence. But all of these require continued vigilance and enforcement through litigation.


What’s the difference between civil liberties and civil rights?

woman and man demonstrating equality, equal pay, civil liberties and civil rightsWhile they are somewhat similar, civil liberties are different from civil rights in that they are basic freedoms while civil rights focus on the right to be free from discrimination. Many of your civil liberties are guaranteed by placing limits on what the government can do to you, such as limit your freedom of speech or imprison you without proper cause. Other civil liberties include the right to privacy, the right to remain silent, the right to a fair trial, and the right to vote, something that both women and people of color had to fight for as they were not similarly recognized in the original Constitution. Most recently, the LGBTQ community fought to guarantee the right to marry for same-sex couples, a civil liberty the original framers would likely not have ever formally considered.

Civil rights, on the other hand, are designed to provide freedom from discrimination. For example, an employer can’t choose to promote only the men in the company, or layoff people just because they are over 50. Women can no longer be fired or denied promotions for getting pregnant; in fact, employers must accommodate pregnant women in the workplace. Your doctor can’t deny you medical care because they don’t like people of your race. And schools must provide a free education to all children in the U.S. and can’t segregate them into different schools. This is an example of a right that was won by a court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education.


Fighting for your rights

Fighting for our civil rights is something that we all need to continue to do because our system of governance requires increasing recognition of marginalized people in our society, methods of ensuring fair and equal treatment under the law, and enforcement through lawsuits, because, unfortunately, not everyone follows the law. Much of the civil rights fight happens in the political world, through voting, protests, and other methods of speaking out. The death of George Floyd in May 2020 brought about huge civil rights protests in many U.S. cities. Those protests brought about change and many states have passed new laws, such as requiring the police to wear cameras to accurately record what they do. As lawyers, we support, but cannot directly assist with political efforts. But when it comes to enforcement of the law, we have the tools necessary to sue, for example, employers that continue to find ways to discriminate and government agencies like police departments that continue to violate people’s civil constitutional rights on a daily basis. We are 100% dedicated to using the law to enforce your civil liberties and rights from those who would seek to violate them.


We can fight for your civil liberties and civil rights

If you feel that your civil liberties or civil rights have been violated, we may be able to help. If you believe your rights have been violated, whether it’s discrimination or police misconduct or any other civil rights matter, it’s important for you to contact an attorney that specializes in civil rights as soon as possible. Many claims have a statute of limitations so time is of the essence. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has handled many civil rights cases and we offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case and/or if the attorneys here may be a good match to represent you in your case.

Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form to schedule your free consultation with us today.

Call (720) 515-6165

How long does a civil rights case take?

empty courtroom for civil rights caseIf you have a civil rights case and are ready to work with an attorney to move forward, it’s important to be aware of how long that can take. Judges’ calendars fill up quickly and therefore just scheduling the trial can often require a significant period of time. Also, certain civil rights complaints need to be filed with specific agencies, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, before you can even move forward with a lawsuit. But if your rights have been violated, then you should definitely contact a civil rights attorney to find out how they can help you.

What is the timeline for a civil rights case?

If you have a civil rights case that is taken on by an attorney, those cases typically require two to three years (on average) to get to trial. That timeframe can be delayed even further if a case is appealed before trial. Generally speaking, these are the steps for taking a case to court:

  1. Initial investigation and preparation for filing a lawsuit: 1-3 months
  2. Initial filing and litigation scheduling with the court takes: 3-4 months
  3. Motions to dismiss (briefing the court on legal issues pertaining to the claims): 4-12 months
  4. Discovery, which included gathering all the evidence from third party sources, asking written and in-person questions of all of the parties and witnesses, and hiring experts to render medical and/or legal opinions: 6-9 months
  5. Summary judgment (another round of briefing the court on the legal issues – this time with the evidence available to determine if we get to go to trial): 6-12 months
  6. Trial prep: 2-3 months
  7. The trial: this can last days or even weeks, depending on the complexity of your case

There is a tremendous amount of legal advocacy that has to happen to get a civil rights complaint past all of the layers of government official immunity, evidence sufficiency, and other challenges before a court will allow a civil rights claimant to tell their story at trial.

Where will my civil rights case be heard

We typically practice in federal court while advocating for federal civil rights. Even when we have state claims, they often involve constitutional rights violations, which are a federal in nature and therefore would go to a federal court. We practice in the state of Colorado and there is a federal courthouse in downtown Denver. During the covid crisis, most court matters are being handled remotely but will eventually return to the federal courthouse.

How to find the right attorney

If you believe your rights have been violated, whether it’s discrimination or police misconduct or any other civil rights matter, it’s important for you to contact an attorney that specializes in civil rights as soon as possible. Many claims have a statute of limitations so time is of the essence. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has handled many civil rights cases and we offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case and/or if the attorneys here may be a good match to represent you in your case.

Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form to schedule your free consultation with us today.

(720) 515-6165

Related articles:

Making a civil rights claim against the police in Denver

Civil rights and what makes a good case in Denver, Colorado

I filed an age discrimination lawsuit: What questions will I be asked?

What is the burden of proof in a religious discrimination lawsuit?

Is there a time limit to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado?

Were you a victim of police brutality during the Denver protests?

citizens protesting against police and discrimination -- civil rightsOver the summer, Denver saw weeks of protests in reaction to the death of George Floyd. And, unfortunately, some police brutality. The majority of the protests in Denver centered around the Capitol and while most people came to protest peacefully, violence erupted, and many people were injured or exposed to chemical weapons. It now appears that protesters might not be as blameworthy as had been previously reported. A recent investigation has found that police may have needlessly caused some of the violence.


Police brutality and the Denver Police Department (DPD)

A recent article from Denverite (Police officers acted dangerously and anonymously during protests against police brutality and racism, investigation finds) discusses a recent investigation regarding the DPD’s response to the protests. The investigation found that the police used “unwarranted and reckless violence” and that “a lack of body camera footage and missing or vague documentation amounted to a mismanaged response from the very institution being protested.” There have been instances where the police violated their own polices by not giving orders to the crowds to disperse before using pepper spray, pepper balls, and other weapons — often recklessly. It also found that officers continued to use chemical weapons and explosives after people had started to disperse, and that some of the officers hadn’t been trained to use those weapons.


The Police Response to the 2020 George Floyd Protests in Denver, an Independent Review

The investigation and report are from The Office of the Independent Monitor, which is “charged with working to ensure accountability, effectiveness, and transparency in the Denver Police and Sheriff disciplinary processes.” The biggest problem they found regarding the actions taken during the protests was the lack of transparency. Body camera were frequently left off. Video footage was frequently not uploaded, and officers didn’t file use-of-force reports. Many officers failed to identify themselves and/or display their badge numbers. DPD even failed to document which officers was deployed during the first four days of the protest. That makes it difficult to assess blame in the more than 100 complaints received of officer misconduct. But mostly, the report found that the Denver Police Department needs to reform its use of force, body camera practices, and officer use of specific weapons.


Were you a victim of police brutality at the protests?

If you were injured by the unnecessary force of police officers during the protests this summer, we would like to hear your story. Police brutality is illegal and officers do not have the right to violate your constitutional rights. If the police have violated your rights and caused injuries, you may be able to file a claim to recover damages fight to ensure justice is served A civil rights attorney can help you determine whether a civil rights action should be filed.

If you or a loved one are the victims of police brutality or other law enforcement abuses, call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form. Schedule your free consultation with a Denver civil rights attorney today.



Additional articles and resources:

Denver police use chemicals to deter people protesting police violence as downtown erupts in chaos

Office of the Independent Monitor

Attorneys hint at massive lawsuit against Denver for police department’s response to summer protests


Additional posts on this topic:

What are my rights if I protest the police?

Police brutality cases in Colorado and your rights

How do I report police brutality in Denver?

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