Can You Sue the State for Wrongful Imprisonment?

Can You Sue the State for Wrongful Imprisonment in Small Claims Court?

Wrongful imprisonment is when somebody is detained without their consent and without legal reason.

That sounds like a crime, but ? Contrary to popular belief, you cannot sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, false imprisonment, or unlawful imprisonment. By definition, these crimes are committed by somebody without the legal authority to detain you.

This is an error of terminology. What you can sue the state for is wrongful conviction and/or wrongful incarceration. It's important to get the phraseology correct. Wrongful imprisonment is commonly used to refer to both of these things, But if you use this term in court, it can muddy the waters. This article is going to talk primarily about wrongful incarceration, which is almost certainly what is meant when people accuse the state of wrongful imprisonment.

Reasons to File a Lawsuit Against the State for Wrongful Imprisonment

You might want to file a lawsuit against the state if you were incarcerated for a crime you did not commit. In some states, there are statutes that lay out specific compensation for wrongful incarceration and have a specific process to request such. For example, in Virginia, a statute allows somebody to receive 90 percent of the inflation-adjusted Virginia per capita personal income for each year or part of a year incarcerated. In these states, you should pursue statutory remedies before filing a lawsuit.

That said, you might want to file a lawsuit if you have experienced the following:

Convictions Based on False IdentificationThe most common reason for a wrongful conviction is false or incorrect eyewitness testimony. Human memory can be fallible, and witnesses don't always pick the correct person out of a lineup. In fact, there has been actual research demonstrating that eyewitness identification is often incorrect and may be skewed by incorrect presentation, poor selection of fillers, etc.
Convictions Based on False ConfessionAnother very common reason is when the police use intimidation techniques to extract a confession — or outright falsify one. In some countries, such as the UK, it is no longer allowed for a court to convict somebody solely based on a confession because of extreme issues with a serious crime unit that was disbanded. This is not the case in the US, but false confessions remain a problem. Some people also confess to crimes they did not commit because of mental illness.

There are other reasons why a miscarriage of justice can happen, and those wrongfully incarcerated should absolutely seek compensation.

File a Lawsuit Against the State for Wrongful Imprisonment by Yourself

You can sue without a lawyer in small claims court, but many wrongful imprisonment cases exceed the $10-15,000 limit for these cases. You should never try to represent yourself in regular court.

However, you may be able to handle things in small claims court if the incarceration was short in duration and committed by local officials. This does not mean you should do it entirely on your own. Apart from anything else, you are likely to lowball the amount of compensation you deserve.

Here are the steps to filing a small claims lawsuit alone:

  1. Give a notice that you will be pursuing legal action if remedies are not made.
  2. Fill out small claims papers and pay filing fees.
  3. Serve papers.
  4. Attend court.

This will take at least 3 months. It may sound easy, but in reality, it’s a tough experience to go through.

Dangers/Issues With Filing a Lawsuit by Yourself

While representing yourself in small claims court is generally successful, doing so without any legal assistance whatsoever is very likely to cause you to lose. In the case of wrongful incarceration, the biggest danger is that you will inadvertently bypass non-court remedies and waste your time and money trying to bring a case the judge won't hear.

Thus, it's best to check exactly what kind of lawsuit you need to file and whether it can be brought in small claims court, and this often requires some assistance.

How to Sue the State for Wrongful Imprisonment With DoNotPay

If you do have a wrongful conviction case that is not covered by compensation statutes or you have failed to get compensation that you could pursue in small claims court, DoNotPay is the perfect solution.

DoNotPay is the world's first robot lawyer. It can generate the legal documents you need and help establish your case. To do this:

    1. Login to .
    2. Select the Sue Now product.
    3. Enter the dollar amount you are claiming as compensation.
    4. Select whether you want a demand letter or court filing forms.
    5. Describe the reason for the lawsuit and upload any evidence you have.

The system will generate the required documents and, in the case of demand letters, send a copy to the state.

What Else Can You Do With DoNotPay?

DoNotPay helps people navigate the legal system with ease. Here are some examples of the kind of lawsuits we can help with:

DoNotPay is the perfect solution for anyone who is suing in small claims court and can't afford a lawyer. It’s also great for:

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