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Jim Sellers, Attorney At Law

40+ Years of experience in Personal Injury Law in both Washington and Oregon

The Civil Justice System Safety Net

There are wrongs. Some are punished as criminal and others provide for the right to recover money damages in civil proceedings.  Sometimes a wrong is committed that goes unpunished in a criminal court and justice is left to be found in a civil court.

I am reminded of the case of OJ Simpson.  He was tried and acquitted of criminal charges in a highly charged criminal case.  Criminal charges must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.  Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and they have other rights that civil litigants don’t have. 

That is because these rights exist for the protection of the innocent – protection from an erroneous conviction that would result in the convicted person’s loss of their liberty or their life. 

At that time there was criticism of the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the judge and the jury.  It was felt in many segments of our society that a guilty man had walked free.

Sometime after OJ Simpson was acquitted, he was sued for the wrongful death of at least one of the persons whom he had been accused of murdering in the criminal proceedings. 

That person’s family as I recall obtained something like a $33,000,000 civil judgment against OJ Simpson for the wrongful death of that person.  In other words, only because of the right of the murder victim’s family to seek a money judgment in our civil courts did OJ Simpson fail to escape punishment for his crime and ultimate public humiliation.  There was some justice.

Most recently, a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the International Monetary Fund, was charged with the forcible rape of a maid who had been sent to clean the hotel room that had been occupied by Strauss-Kahn. 

This married man’s defense was that the sex was consensual.  After he was accused other instances of sexual assault by Strauss-Kahn were alleged by other women who until that time had remained quiet.

Ultimately the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped by the public prosecutor.  The public prosecutor felt that the maid’s credibility as a witness had been jeopardized because of untruths by her that were largely unconnected with the criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn. 

Apparently it was felt that in a criminal court, where defendants have greater rights, the maid’s credibility on these untruths could have become an issue that would have resulted in an acquittal. 

            However, the maid is now suing Strauss-Kahn in a civil action for a money judgment on account of the alleged assault.  In civil court, the untruths of which the maid is accused may be ruled not relevant to her claim against Strauss-Kahn. 

There will be no third party, like the public prosecutor, to decide whether she can go forward with her claims – she will be entitled to make that decision. 

In civil court, Strauss-Kahn will be forced to testify and explain himself, as will the maid.  In the criminal proceedings he could not have been forced to testify. 

In other words if justice could not be had in criminal proceedings, the maid and Strauss-Kahn will nevertheless have the opportunity to find a different form of justice in civil proceedings.

Additional reading: Personal Injury and the Justice system, civil justice system, civil vs criminal justice system, Personal Injury and the justice system and safety net, negligence, personal injury, Civil liberties.

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