How Does a Guilty Verdict in a Criminal Case Affect a Subsequent Civil Trial?
Maybe you made a mistake and you hurt someone. Maybe you’ve been charged and found guilty in a criminal trial. Did you know you could also be sued by the victim in civil court?
But, what about “double-jeopardy”?
Unfortunately, double jeopardy doesn’t apply between criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, you are being sued “by the people.” In a civil suit, you are being sued by the alleged victim or their family. You may just have to endure two separate lawsuits.
But, how does that criminal verdict affect this new civil trial?
Pleas in California Criminal Cases
In California, there are three potential pleas available to a criminal defendant:
- Not guilty
- Nolo contendere (“no contest”)
Each of these pleas have different implications on a subsequent California civil trial. Your criminal defense attorney should counsel you on these consequences when discussing your criminal trial strategy. We’ll discuss each plea individually.
Pleading Not Guilty with a Not Guilty Verdict in a Criminal Trial
If you plead not guilty in a California criminal trial and are not found to be guilty in a criminal trial, this is the best possible result, for a variety of reasons. However, a not guilty verdict does not automatically mean you will win a civil trial. This is because there is a different standard of proof in criminal and civil cases.
In a criminal case, a jury must find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil lawsuit, the standard is lower. A plaintiff only needs to show guilt by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that it was more likely than not that you committed a harmful act.
For a real-life example of how this works, check out the OJ Simpson case. He was found innocent in a criminal case, but the civil courts found that he “more likely than not” had caused his wife’s death.
Pleading Nolo Contendere in a Criminal Trial
Nolo contendere simply means that you do not contest the charges against you. When you plead nolo contendere the judge issues a sentencing order. There is no trial on the facts.
In a misdemeanor case, if you plead nolo contendere, this plea cannot be used against you as an admission of guilt in a civil trial arising from the same facts as the criminal trial.
In a felony case, a plea of nolo contendere can be used against you as an admission of guilt in a civil trial arising from the same facts as the criminal trial.
Pleading Guilty in a Criminal Trial
If you plead guilty in a criminal trial in California, that plea can be used against you as an admission of guilt in a civil trial on the same facts. A finding of guilt in a criminal case is enough to show you are liable in a civil case.
Remember that standard of proof we were talking about? This is where that issue comes up. Since the criminal trial had a higher standard of proof, it automatically satisfies the lower standard of proof in a civil trial.
Use of Prior Criminal Trial Evidence in a California Civil Case
In addition to using a criminal conviction in a subsequent civil case, the plaintiff’s attorney may also be able to use evidence that was used in the criminal case. Even worse, there are some instances when evidence that was excluded from your criminal case can still be used in your civil case.
The use of evidence from a criminal conviction may also be used against you in certain circumstances if you are acting as a witness in another civil trial, not related to the criminal actions. You may be “impeached” as a witness using the conviction, meaning your testimony would hold no value.
What Should You Do if You’re Charged With a Crime?
The best thing you can do if you’re charged with a crime is to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney who knows the ins and outs of your type of case. If there is the possibility of a civil lawsuit arising from the alleged crime, you must understand the consequences of any plea you decide to make, regardless of potential criminal trial outcomes.
Talking through your strategy options with an experienced defense attorney is key in ensuring both your rights, and your livelihood, are protected. Pleading guilty or being found guilty of a crime can have lasting repercussions in both your personal, and your work life. It’s best to know your options before you make a mistake that could last a lifetime.