Can I Get Sued Because of A Criminal Case… Or Vice Versa… Can I Be Charged With a Crime because of a Civil Case?

November 30, 2016

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Today I’ll discuss a question I get from time to time in various forms:

  • “Can I also get sued even though I’m being criminally prosecuted?”

… and the same question in reverse,

  • “I’m getting sued right now (or being threatened with a lawsuit)… could they also criminally prosecute me?”

…another common one is,

  • “Can someone threaten me with criminal charges to get me to settle a civil dispute?”

Could Someone Being Criminally Prosecuted also be Sued?

Yes, but it’s very rare and comparing a criminal prosecution to a civil lawsuit is like comparing a knife fight to a pillow fight.  I might be more biased because I handle criminal cases but I tend to think they’re far more serious than civil cases — though civil cases can be thoroughly unpleasant too.

Most crimes where there is an accuser or victim involved can almost certainly trigger civil liability.  Civil causes of action are far easier to bring and are generally easier to prove-up (because they’re just trying to take your money and not your liberty — or so the theory goes).

Probably the most common scenario I see is a car accident case where DWI might be alleged.  Even that is mostly insurance companies duking out who will pay for what.

A criminal prosecution is often a ‘poor-man’s’ lawsuit.  Going to the police and making the prosecutor’s telephone ring off the hook is free.  Paying for your own lawyer to make someone else’s life miserable is a luxury.  Hence the rarity of seeing both a civil and a criminal prosecution.

Ultimately my instinct is defend the criminal case first and worry about civil liability second.  This is because of the severity of criminal prosecution and the punishments are simply not equivalent.

I’m Being Sued (or Threatened with a Lawsuit).  Could this Turn Criminal?

Again, very rarely.

While most crimes involving victims or accusers trigger criminal liability as well — the reverse is not nearly as true.  Civil causes of action are far more problematic to convert to criminal charges.  This is for all sorts of reasons… civil cases are often based in negligence, or misunderstandings, or questions about who pays for an unexpected loss.

Most parties in a civil proceeding have little, if any, interest in pursuing criminal actions.  Generally they just want whatever relief they think they might be entitled to.  That could be things such as money or an injunction of some sort.

Also, police are very reluctant to get involved in what they perceive to be a civil dispute.  They have enough to worry about and a complicated civil matter is often an easy “we can’t help you” situation.

Certain cases criminal value are extremely diminished when civil liability is sought first.  Think of a sexual assault case where the accuser first tries to get a settlement or sues the perpetrator before going to the police.  What might have been a solid case is now stained by questions about what could be the accuser’s real motive.

A normal exception would probably be certain white-collar cases where both victims have abundant resources and state or federal investigating agencies are interested due to the sheer amount or volume of a crime in question.  Again, though, keep in mind these are not your garden variety or every-day case.

Can Someone Threaten Criminal Prosecution To Get a Civil Settlement?

No.  That’s blackmail.  Think about it… “Pay me money or a I’ll go to the police.”  Generally lawyers or companies that make these types of threats word them extremely carefully.  They make it clear you are settling civil liability only.  Don’t get me wrong — they’re normally happy to let you think that by settling the civil case — you’re keeping a criminal matter “hush hush.”

While it’s okay to settle civil liability through a private settlement — no private party or entity can threaten criminal action nor waive the State or Government’s right to prosecute.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.  He is Board Certified in Criminal Law.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice on any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 

 

 


My Main Enemy: Cynicism

November 7, 2016

By Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Cynicism is defined by Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary as, “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest,” or people are”selfish and dishonest in a way that shows no concern about treating other people fairly.”

I’m writing about cynicism today because it is the cancer from which our criminal justice system suffers most.  The cynicism I’m writing about today is all too often from law enforcement, probation officers, prosecutors, Judges, and even my own which I battle like everyone else.

When I talk to clients, I describe cynicism as a “headwind” which makes our fight tougher than it might appear.  On a DWI, for example, I tell people everyone in the Courthouse will treat you like an alcoholic even if you had your first drink of alcohol the night you were arrested.

World Views

Everyone has their own world view – especially related to their job.  I understand everything I see and experience through my practice shapes my view of how people are and the world around me.  When dealing with people, it is important to know how their every-day job and life experiences shape their views.

As an example, I remember being a waiter during college and falling into the mental trap of occasionally judging people based on how they tipped.  I knew in the back of my mind then — as I am sure today — the judgments I was making were of only an ever-so-thin slice of my experience with a person.  A big tipper might otherwise be a total jerk.  A bad tipper may be a great mother, father or neighbor who just wasn’t carrying as much cash as they thought they were going to need that day.

I feel lucky to meet with people who need help when they come see me.  So I tend to see people and their families when they are reticent, respectful and often in desperate search of hope and guidance.  My view of “the system” then, is someone charged with a crime is vulnerable and in great need of counsel and support.

But I know not everyone sees it that way.

World Views of Those in the Criminal Justice System

I have to remind myself the people dealing with my clients only get a thin slice of them.  To some police my client might be just the crime they were accused of instead of a person.  To some prosecutors my client might just be another file.  To some judges my client might just be another schmo needing mercy.  Many of these professionals can allow cynicism to get the better of them.  Everything they hear and see can be a lame excuse.

Fighting Cynicism

Fighting the pre-existing views of someone can not only be daunting but sometimes downright impossible.  Think of how impossible it can be to change someone’s political, religious or even sports opinions.  Instead of attacking the cynicism head on (and losing), it’s often the better play to incorporate the strengths of our arguments into what the prosecutor or judge already believes.

An example might be showing a prosecutor who is convinced everyone charged with certain crimes are drug addicts my client is clean and has a plan to stay clean.  This out-flanks the opponent and takes away all the oxygen from their fire.  If they’re still going to be mad at the accused then they could be exposed as being unreasonable to a Judge or Jury.

Sometimes the cynicism we are dealing with is too great.  No matter what I say or do I can’t convince someone “who knows it all” otherwise.  Sometimes we have to fight in court and see what a jury thinks.   Even if the prosecutor and judge don’t get it — a Jury still can.

My Cynicism

Did you catch it?  I have to remind myself that even though others I deal with might disagree with me… or seem to know it all… I have to carefully listen and be mindful of their point of view before I get cynical about their views.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed in Texas.  He is Board Certified in Criminal Law. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For advice on any situation contact an attorney directly.