Pedal To The Metal: Contesting Motions to Stay Pending a Separate Criminal Action
In certain situations it is not uncommon for there to be a separate criminal action in addition to a civil action. In these situations, it is important for the attorney to keep prosecuting the civil action even though the outcome of the criminal action may change the eventual outcome of the civil case. The attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group, LLP are often confronted with motions to stay filed by defense attorneys in these situations. We routinely contest these motions to advance the interests of our clients.
What does the above all mean to the average person? Well, first of all, the average person needs to understand the difference between a civil action and a criminal action. An “action” is just a word attorneys use to describe a lawsuit or a legal proceeding. Thus, a civil action is nothing more than a civil lawsuit and a criminal action is nothing more than a criminal case. This brings us to the next question: What is the difference between a civil and criminal case?
A criminal case is one which the state or government is prosecuting an individual for a crime. For example, the State of California v. John Doe. In a criminal action, a government entity is the prosecuting party. Usually, it is the state’s attorney or district attorney. A private party is not the one suing. On the other hand, in a civil action, the party suing is a private individual or entity suing another party. Technically, anything that is not a criminal action is a civil action. This includes lawsuits where: husbands are suing wives, employees are suing employers, injured victims are suing negligent drivers, homeowners are suing contractors, consumers are suing manufacturers, patients are suing doctors, vendors are suing suppliers, companies are suing other companies, the lists goes on and on.
Another difference between a civil and criminal case is the standard one must meet to prove their case and win. The party who initiates the lawsuit must satisfy this standard by providing evidence proving their case. The party who must prove their case to win is said to have “the burden of proof.” In a criminal case, the standard is beyond all reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the standard is a preponderance of the evidence. This means more likely than not. In other words, in a criminal case “the burden of proof” is on the State to prove that the accused committed the crime beyond all reasonable doubt. In a civil action, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was more likely than not guilty or responsible for what the plaintiff is claiming.
A famous example distinguishing the two standards are the O.J. Simpson cases. In 1994, O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. O.J. Simpson was prosecuted by the State of California in a criminal action for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. O.J. Simpson was also sued by the family of Nicole Brown Simpson in a civil lawsuit for their damages arising from her death. O.J. Simpson was found not-guilty in the criminal action but was held liable in the civil action. This was due largely to the different standards that applied to the cases. The civil standard was much easier to prove because her family only had to prove that O.J. more likely than not murdered her. On the other hand, the State of California had to prove that there was not even a reasonable doubt that O.J. murdered her. Absent conclusive DNA evidence, finding no doubt whatsoever is difficult to do.
This brings us back to the point of this blog post. In certain cases, we encounter situations where the party we are suing is also being criminally prosecuted. One example is a civil action where we represent an injured plaintiff who is suing a driver that was under the influence of drugs or narcotics at the time of the accident. In these cases, the person we are suing is often being prosecuted for his or her criminal conduct. In other cases, we encounter situations where the client we are representing is being criminally prosecuted for an alleged crime that is also the subject of our civil lawsuit. This is common in civil rights and police brutality cases. For example, we may be suing for an injured plaintiff who is claiming excessive force and police brutality. At the same time, the State is accusing our client of the crime of resisting arrest.
When these situations present themselves, it is standard operating procedure for defense attorneys on the other side to file motions to stay the civil lawsuit pending the outcome of the criminal case. A “motion to stay” is lawyer speak for papers that a party files with the court requesting that the court stop something. A motion to stay the civil action is a request to the court to stop the civil lawsuit until the criminal case is decided. The defense figures that the outcome of the criminal case will affect the civil case so the civil case should not go forward. While in some situations this may be true, we still contest these motions to give our clients the best chance of winning their cases. The longer one waits to prosecute their civil case the more likely it becomes that valuable evidence is lost or destroyed, witnesses can’t be found or located, memories fade and important facts forgotten. In addition, the longer our clients must wait for a recovery, the more financial pressure and stress they encounter.
The attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group, LLP fight at every turn to give our clients the best chance of succeeding. If you or a loved one needs aggressive legal representation, contact the Piccuta Law Group, LLP today. We will provide a free consultation at no charge.