Graphic Text Message Justified Man’s Arrest

     (CN) – A New Jersey man whose ex-wife received a text message of fellatio from his number does not have a case for malicious prosecution, a federal judge ruled.
     David and Jacqueline Stetser divorced in 2007 after 13 years of marriage and Jacqueline filed for a temporary restraining order against her ex-husband on April 24, 2008.
     Although the final restraining order (FRO) barred David from having any oral, written, personal or electronic contact with Jacqueline, she believed David had violated that order when she received a graphic text message on her phone.
     The message, which was sent from the number she recognized as that of her husband, depicted a woman performing fellatio on a man.
     Officer Sherry Jinks with the Gloucester Township Police Department fielded Jacqueline’s subsequent complaint against David on Aug. 21, 2008.
     Based on Jacqueline’s signed certification and Jinks’ independent personal knowledge of the couple’s acrimonious history, Jinks in turn filed a criminal complaint against David.
     Police then arrested David, holding the man for several hours in a cell before he could post bail. David then got the charge dismissed at trial by showing that he had changed his phone number after the divorce and thus could not have sent the picture himself.
     He sued several people, but U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb put the last claim – malicious prosecution against Jinks – to bed on Friday.
     David failed to show that Jinks ignored exculpatory evidence concerning his tension with Jacqueline, according to the ruling
     “Plaintiff does not explain how knowledge of the Stetsers’ acrimony is exculpatory,” Bumb wrote. “And, to the extent that that evidence could support an inference that Ms. Stetser would be motivated to fraudulently file a complaint against plaintiff, it would equally objectively support an inference that plaintiff would be motivated to harass Ms. Stetser.”
     Because there was probable cause to arrest David, Jinks had no duty to further investigate Jacqueline’s claims, according to the ruling.
     “Ms. Stetser’s certification and the defendant’s own personal knowledge of the contentious relationship between Ms. Stetser were sufficient to support a reasonable belief that a crime had been committed – namely, the violation of the FRO,” Bumb wrote. “Most significantly, while plaintiff apparently adduced evidence at trial that he did not send Ms. Stetser the lewd photograph at issue, at the time defendant screened Ms. Stetser’s complaint, the notion that someone other than plaintiff could have sent the text message would have been [sic] seemed implausible; it would mean that someone, with the same number that plaintiff undisputedly had, randomly sent a lewd photograph to the plaintiff’s former wife. It was also significant that Ms. Stetser’s complaint was filed the year following her divorce – a time when her information as to plaintiff’s phone number was unlikely to be stale.”
     David also failed to show that Jinks did not subjectively believe that he had committed the crime.
     “Defendant’s state of mind is entirely irrelevant because the probable cause inquiry is based on an objective analysis,” Bumb wrote.
     The judge later added: “Because defendant had probable cause to initiate the criminal proceeding at issue, plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim fails.”

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