If there is one thing worse than being on the receiving end of a lawsuit, it is being involved in a criminal prosecution.
For drivers, business owners and many others, that double whammy is all too possible. A criminal charge on top of a civil action can feel overwhelming, but these cases are more common than you might think.
The driver who causes an accident where someone is injured or killed is likely to be sued by the family of the victim, but they may also be arrested for DUI or a similar offense. In that case, the driver involved may find themselves defending a civil action in one case, while trying to stay out of jail. It might seem like good news, therefore, when the alleged victim or their family suddenly drops the case. Instead of worrying about jail time, the person involved in the wrongdoing is free to go. When the prosecutors decide that there is not enough evidence for a conviction, the individual involved will probably breathe a sigh of relief. That sigh of relief could be premature, however. The prosecutor may have decided not to pursue a criminal case, and the alleged victim may have dropped their fight for courtroom justice, but in other ways the action could be very much alive.
There is a marked difference between a criminal case, which can easily result in jail time and the loss of personal freedom, and a civil case, where the damages are monetary instead of punitive. The alleged victim in your case may have dropped their criminal case, but they still have the right to pursue you, and your insurance company, in civil court. Criminal defense lawyers understand the distinction between criminal and civil matters, and they help guide their clients through these tricky waters. It is also important to note that there is a different level of evidence required in criminal and civil court, and that could have a huge bearing on the outcome of the remaining case. The evidentiary threshold for criminal convictions is very high, requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
That stricture is in place to stop innocent men and women from spending their lives in jail. Yet, even with these strict requirements in place, many criminal defense attorneys claim that their innocent clients were ultimately convicted. The threshold for evidence in a civil matter is quite different, and much lower. Instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, plaintiffs in a civil case must simply tip the odds in their favor. In other words, if it is more likely that the accused committed the act in question, the plaintiff will prevail. And since the damages in civil actions can stretch into six or seven figures, the results of the lawsuit could be truly devastating.
There is no doubt that being charged criminally is more frightening; after all a criminal conviction could mean spending serious time in jail. Even so, a civil suit is nothing to laugh at, and the seriousness of the charges should not be dismissed or taken lightly. If you have been charged civilly, even if the criminal charges have been dropped or the victim has declined to press charges, you need the right legal representation. Finding an experienced criminal defense attorney or civil suit lawyer is essential, and the sooner you get that legal help the better off you will be.
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