A finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing bars the defendant from subsequently claiming that he was prosecuted without probable cause, despite his claim the finding was based on false testimony, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Great case, discussing the elements of malicious prosecution.
I get many calls from clients wanting to sue for defamation and/or malicious prosecution after they are found not guilty of a criminal charge (or if the District Attorney decides not to pursue the case). As this case makes clear, a finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing bars the defendant from subsequently claiming that he was prosecuted without probable cause, despite his claim the finding was based on false testimony.
The Court of Appeal ruled that case law has long held that a magistrate’s ruling at the preliminary hearing that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to bind a defendant over for trial is preclusive on the issue of probable cause on a subsequent malicious prosecution claim.
The justice acknowledged on exception. There can still be a claim for malicious prosecution when the magistrate’s ruling is procured by false testimony, but the exception does not apply where the magistrate directly determined that the allegedly false witness was credible. “Accordingly, the magistrate’s probable cause determination, based on its credibility finding that Casasola testified truthfully about plaintiff’s threat, was sufficient to invoke collateral estoppel.”
It is a really tough burden to pursue a malicious prosecution action based on a criminal prosecution.