The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Homicide

September 23, 2016 | Category: Personal Injury

Since the O.J. Simpson murder case took place in Los Angeles, local area residents may remember it better than people living in other areas of the country.

However, recent series, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX Networks) introduces this 1994 case to a new national audience. Simpson prevailed with a not-guilty verdict in the famous case, but a personal injury lawyer took the case to civil court a year later, winning tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

The two cases illustrate that a guilty verdict in a homicide case helps ensure justice by punishing criminals; however, a guilty verdict in a wrongful death case is important to loved ones who need monetary compensation for their loss.

The Two Main Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases

In most cases, criminal acts automatically create victims. Those victims may experience closure and a sense of satisfaction when the courts send convicted criminals to prison; however, criminal conviction does not otherwise compensate victims for their losses. Monetary compensation for the victims requires cases brought in civil court.

Criminal and civil cases are separate and distinct legal proceedings, and it is not uncommon for anyone who commits a wrongful act to face both types of trials, as was the case with O. J. Simpson.

Of course, there are any number of strategic differences between the two types of cases, but as explained in an article by the California Courts, two main differences make it possible to prevail in civil court even after the criminal courts establish a not-guilty verdict:

  • The difference in evidentiary requirements: Criminal courts require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, where civil courts require a preponderance of evidence, which is a lower standard. Additionally, since criminal trials generally occur before civil trials for the same incidents, civil prosecutors can re-use the criminal trial evidence, which is now considered under the lower evidentiary standard.
  • Monetary damages vs. criminal punishment: Certainly, no amount of monetary recovery can truly compensate grieving families for the loss of a loved one. However, it can help to remove some of the financial worries caused by funeral and other expenses, along with the loss of future support and other concerns as families try to move forward.

Homicide convictions are important — they get dangerous individuals off the street. Still, wrongful death cases are the only way to help ensure that families receive some sort of justice.

A Criminal Acquittal Does Not Prohibit a Civil Conviction

The members of the national public will probably always disagree about the outcome of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. As it happens, while gloves seem to have convinced a jury to acquit him in that trial, a pair of shoes resulted in conviction in the civil case. The real lesson to be learned, however, is that the murder trial outcome did not prevent a large monetary award against him in civil court.

When criminal or other wrongful acts contribute to the loss of a loved one, families need to go through both types of trial to seek justice for their losses. While two trials can involve significant stress for individuals who have already suffered the ultimate loss, a skilled wrongful death attorney knows how to take action to help reduce the stress. For compassionate support, call us at (844) 478-3626 / (844) 4RUDMAN, at our Los Angeles office at (213) 375-3777 or at our Studio City office (818) 769-6969.

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