Too often, the criminal justice system fails to bring justice to victims and their loved ones. When a person is found not guilty of a crime or faces a light sentence, the victim’s loved ones may feel that the criminal case failed to hold the perpetrator accountable for their profound loss. In these scenarios, a victim or their loved ones might look for another way to seek justice. When the criminal justice system fails to hold perpetrators accountable, a victim or their loved ones may turn to civil court and file a negligence lawsuit.
As a recent news article reported, a corrections officer received no jail time for an accident that killed a nine-year-old girl in Cumberland County, Maine. The accident occurred when the officer crashed his truck into an SUV, killing the girl who was riding in the back of the car. While on trial for manslaughter, the officer admitted he may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Prosecutors asked the judge for an 8-year sentence, 4 years’ supervision, and 100 hours of community service. The judge was much more lenient. At the sentencing hearing, the judge imposed a 6-year suspended sentence, 4 years probation, and 200 hours of community service. A suspended sentence is delayed until the convicted person completes probation, but judges often dismiss the sentence upon successful completion of the probation period. As a result, the officer likely faces no jail time.
Can You Sue a Driver Who Faced Charges in Criminal Court?
A criminal case does not affect your ability to sue a criminal defendant for damages in civil court. First, you can sue a driver who was found not guilty in a criminal trial—or who did not face criminal charges at all. Remember that a jury may find a person not guilty in a criminal case, but a jury could find that same person liable for civil damages. Second, you can sue a driver for damages even if they have to pay a criminal fine. Maine’s criminal law imposes fines as punishment for certain crimes, but these fines have nothing to do with civil liability for an accident. Even if the driver must pay criminal fines, you can still hold them responsible for civil damages.