If you’ve been harmed or a loved one killed by an act of violence or other criminal action, you want to see the person responsible punished by the criminal justice system. However, that system doesn’t always provide the justice victims are seeking.
Victims and their surviving family members can hold those they believe are responsible for a criminal act liable through a civil lawsuit. That’s true even when the responsible party has not been charged or convicted of a crime.
While a criminal conviction can certainly help you win a subsequent personal injury or wrongful death suit, it’s not necessary. In fact, many people take action in civil court because of the limitations of the criminal justice system to address certain wrongs. Likely, the most famous example of this involved O.J. Simpson. After being found not guilty of two murders in his criminal trial, he was found responsible for the deaths in the civil case brought by the victims’ families.
Let’s look at a few key differences between criminal and civil cases:
In a criminal trial, the crime is considered to have been committed against the state -– in other words, against society. Prosecutors file the case and represent the government rather than specifically the victim or a crime victim’s surviving family members. In a civil case, the wronged party brings any civil action forward.
Standards of proof
In a criminal case, the jury needs to believe “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is guilty of the crime with which they’re charged. In civil court, the judge or jury needs to find only that “the preponderance of the evidence” shows that they’re guilty. In other words, only 51% likelihood of guilt is enough for victims to win their case.
A conviction in a criminal case can result in the loss of someone’s liberty (or life, in death penalty cases). Therefore, all defendants are entitled to an attorney provided by the government if they can’t afford one. In a civil case, the defendant is in no danger of facing time behind bars. Their punishment will be monetary if they’re found responsible. They have to provide their own defense team.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a crime, it’s essential to understand all of your avenues for seeking justice. An experienced attorney can provide valuable guidance.