Supreme Court defines “favorable termination” of criminal prosecution as an absence of conviction, acquittal is not required

Thompson v. Clark, 596 U.S. _ (2022)

Primary Ruling: Supporting a favorable termination of criminal prosecution for purposes of a section 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim, doesn’t require a showing the criminal prosecution ended with an affirmation of innocence; only that the claimant was not convicted.

This case bears directly on the presumption of innocence. In this case, the Court resolved a split amongst the circuits. A favorable termination of criminal prosecution for purposes of a section 1983 Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim does not require an acquittal or any show of innocence, only that there was no conviction. The American tort-law consensus as of 1871 did not require a plaintiff in a malicious prosecution suit to show an acquittal or any other indication of innocence; merely that there was no conviction. The court applied the same reasoning to criminal matters to remain consistent with “the values and purposes” of the Fourth Amendment. Determining whether a defendant was wrongly charged, or whether they may seek redress for wrongful prosecution, cannot depend on an explanation of why charges were dismissed. An acquittal or showing of innocence is not necessary to protect officers from unwarranted civil suits, all that is required is an absence of a conviction.

The plaintiff (Thompson) was living with his fiancée and their newborn baby in a Brooklyn apartment. Thompson’s sister-in-law, apparently suffering from mental illness, reported that Thompson sexually abused the baby. When Emergency Medical Technicians arrived, the plaintiff refused admission to his apartment. The EMTs returned with police officers, plaintiff demanded they obtain a warrant. The police entered regardless and arrested and charged the plaintiff with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. Medical professionals examined the baby and found no signs of abuse. Plaintiff was detained for forty-eight hours, and the charges against dismissed without any explanation. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim.

The Supreme Court reversed, finding the absence of a conviction provides the plaintiff with a presumption of innocence enforceable against local officials.

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