Sunday, May 10, 2009

Civil vs. Criminal Cases

Many of my faithful followers have asked about the difference between criminal and civil cases. Read on, and you shall learn.

Public misunderstanding of the concept of double jeopardy still persists in this regard. This protective clause in the Fifth Amendment prevents a defendant from undergoing two criminal trials for the same crime. Criminal cases are intended to deprive a defendant of life or liberty for an alleged offense. Civil trials exist to remedy some inequity by exchanging property or money.

An individual can be tried in both a criminal court and a civil court for the same crime. There is also the potential to be prosecuted in a federal criminal court after being tried for the same crime in a state criminal court, as happened to the police accused in the Rodney King case. For now we should ignore that exception, since it may confuse less educated readers.

There are precedents set for winning a criminal trial but losing a civil suit for the crime. New Yorker Bernard Goetz, the so-called “Subway Vigilante,” was acquitted of murder charges in the criminal case after shooting four young black men who accosted him in the subway. Years later, one of the gun-shot victims who was left paralyzed successfully sued Goetz for $43 million in civil court.

Socialite Claus von Bulow, with the help of the most media-worn defense attorney of our time, Alan Dershowitz, was convicted but then acquitted for allegedly murdering his wife with insulin injections in the 1980’s. He later settled a civil lawsuit filed by his stepchildren, agreeing to concede claims to hundreds of millions of dollars of his wife’s property and estate.

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson spent three years in jail for the rape of a beauty pageant contestant, and later settled in a civil suit. He was also represented by the glory seeking Dershowitz.

Perhaps the most notable example, however, is the case of O.J. Simpson. The Hall of Fame NFL star was accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, in front of her Brentwood condominium in 1994. Simpson was acquitted in the touted criminal case of the century with the help of his so-called defense attorney Dream Team, led by F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochrane. Despite this acquittal, the Goldmans later successfully sued Simpson in a civil case, winning over $8.5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages in 1997 for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of Brown.

The decision led to the garnishing of Simpson’s income, with the exception of his NFL pension. Simpson publically denounced the decision, vowing not to pay the Goldmans any of the awarded money. Legal battles ensued, including the Goldmans’ winning the rights to Simpson’s notorious book If I Did It, presumably a fictitious account of the murders, in at attempt to regain some of the $33.5 million previously awarded by the courts.

Destiny has made a perilous mistake by changing her legal counsel between cases. There are so many nuances with serial murder cases, particularly in the civil arena. She is disregarding the Ivy League firepower that won her seemingly insurmountable criminal case by turning to a Rutgers Law School graduate for the civil case. Given the mountain of evidence used against her in the criminal case, it seems likely that she will lose this next battle without adequate counsel.


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