Civil case as part of a criminal case

Hello, gang,

We’ve recently had a couple of fairly high-profile criminal proceedings here in Norway, resulting in the defendants being found criminally not guilty, but civily liable. I’ve realised I know to little about how similar cases would be handled in other countries, and I have a couple of question about the way these cases are handled in the US, the UK and other relevant countries of comparison.

For many criminal cases in Norway the question of civil liablity and recompense are handled in the same trial by the state prosectuing attorney. This leads to the same trial having two different burdens of proof - the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt (the so-called 90%sure) and the civil preponderance of evidence (a.k.a. 51% sure).

The defender(s) were found not guilty in the criminal part of the trial, thus not sentenced to prison, but found to be more likely than not to have commited the crimes and therefore sentenced to pay a recompense to the victim. So the “court of public opinion” label them guilty and treat them as such. This of course leads to frustration among victims and the populace, as someone tried in a criminal case can be found not guilty, yet be forced to pay the victim - and as such is sort of guilty anyway.

A famous case with a similar outcome from the US is the OJ Simpson case - found not guilty in the criminal case, then a couple of years later found guilty (is that the term?) for causing a wrongful death and sentenced to pay the families of the deceased a hefty sum.

Now (finally) for the questions:

Are criminal and civil cases sometimes handled in the same trial in other countries or are criminal and civil trials always kept strictly separate?
Are civil cases always filed by the victim, never by the authorities?

Civil and criminal trials are always separate in the U.S. Sometimes criminal penalties can include fines, however.

In the U.S., government authorities also take certain civil actions against individuals. To use tax fraud as an example, the Department of Justice can choose to criminally prosecute tax evaders or the IRS can pursue them in civil proceedings.

There are some areas of law where the government can prosecute criminally or take civil action, and where private litigants can also sue. For example, in the case of securities fraud, the Department of Justice can prosecute criminally, the Securities and Exchange Commission can take civil action (either in court or in administrative proceedings), and private parties can sue for their own losses.

Add to Tired and Cranky’s excellent response.

We often (in the U.S.) have a case that involves different burdens of proof, that might be similar to what the OP is asking about. In some civil cases the plaintiff is seeking punitive damages (designed to punish the defendant and deter others) in addition to more common civil claim. Thus, the basic cause of action have a preponderance of the evidence standard, and the jury would have to something more (malice, reckless indifference, etc) to impose punitive or exemplary damages. The Exxon Valdez oil spill for example, had a basic claim for damages caused by the spill and a claim for punitive damages.

A couple excellent answers already. I might add that in the OJ Simpson example, the civil suit was not brought by the government, but by the family of the victim as a private lawsuit. In general, a government prosecutor will not participate in this kind of private party vs private party civil case (though paying damages could be part of the outcome of a criminal case).

I don’t think in this case there are two different burdens of proof (still the civil preponderance of evidence burden), but rather two different factual questions for the jury. So one question is whether Exxon caused damage in a way that made them liable for compensating victims, and the other question is whether Exxon did it in a way that also made them liable for punitive damages.

I’m not an expert but I don’t think it’s possible in any U.S. system to have a trial that combines criminal and civil issues and therefore two different burdens of proof.


Criminal—guilty or not guilty

Civil—liable or not liable

I’m paraphrasing the way my wife (a civil attorney) described it to me a long time ago, and I’m sure one of our resident attorneys will clean it up.

In criminal trials, guilt has to be determined “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Civil trials don’t have that particular restriction- they’re looking for whether someone/something is liable at all, and if so, to what degree.

So where in a criminal trial, the defense can cast doubt on whether the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and thereby potentially get them off the hook (think OJ Simpson), in the civil trial, it’s about their degree of liability, not whether or not they’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Incorrect, generally. In most jurisdictions, entitlement to punitive damages must be established by “clear and convincing” evidence. (More than preponderance, less than beyond a reasonable doubt). I have participated in many trials where there are two different burdens of proof.

It’s separate here too, but a civil hearing (for damages or compensation for example) might often follow from a criminal trial and being found not guilty at the latter might not mean the same at the former (although it would have a bearing).

Another point… a criminal trial might result in a conviction which includes payment of restitution to the victim. Restitution is a required part of the sentence upon conviction for certain violent crimes in some states.

Restitution compensates the victim for certain damages which were incurred due to the criminal act but does not include punitive damages or other non-monetary damages. Medical bills, lost wages, crime scene cleanup, travel to participate in legal proceedings and such expenses where the victim might easily provide a receipt demonstrating costs incurred are broadly the sorts of expenses that might be covered by a restitution order.

So a person convicted of an assault might be sentenced to both prison time and to paying restitution to the victim for medical bills incurred to treat injuries sustained in the assault.

However a victim may still bring a civil lawsuit requesting payment of any damages not covered under a restitution order such as an award for pain and suffering or punitive damages. The victim cannot be reimbursed for the same damages under both a restitution order and a civil damages award.

Thank you, I stand happily corrected.

Excellent answers, thank you all. It seems then that the norwegian method of combining criminal and the civil proceedings might be somewhat unusual, at least compared to the US. Part of the reason I’m interested in finding out how unique the norwegian system is is that there has been at least two cases I know of where Norway has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where the government of Norway were found in breech due to the defendant being found not guilty, yet held as civily liable in the same trial.

So you could, in the UK, be found not guilty, but later be ordered to pay restitution of some sort, in a hearing administered by the authorities? (As in, not a civil trial instigated by the victim)

Yes, civil cases have liability and restitution.
Liability essentially means - we suffered this material loss and you must compensate us for it, as it is judged to be your fault.
Punitive damages are basically, “you’ve been a bad boy so we’re going to pile on a penalty.” IIRC for example, where the person not only caused damage but then, perhaps, behaved badly during or after.
(Classic case IIRC was in Canada where the fellow was fired and then immediately escorted out in front of everyone else by security staff. He won the dismissal suit since he’d done nothing warranting dismissal without warning, so he got the standard for separation pay for that position. He won additional punitive damages because of the way they made him look like he’d been fired for something criminal - just because - why else - the bosses were being dicks. So it takes an egregious use of the disproportionate power by one of the two parties to create punitive damages also. )

But yes, in the last few decades concern about the victims has meant that Canadian court can in some circumstances order restitution of damages to a victim as part of the criminal trial, thus saving the victim additional legal hassles Generally, though, like in the USA, the civil cases are a separate lawsuit brought by the offended party against the person causing the offense. When it’s simply an argument over damages, the standard is - who is likely correct? (“Preponderance of evidence”)

I believe in the OJ case, the civil lawsuit was that the parents had been deprived of the enjoyment of their son’s company, plus as heirs of his estate could sue for the hurt/death caused by OJ (allegedly) to their son.

In France, like in Norway, the civil trial follows immediately the criminal trial with the same court.

However, contrarily to Norway, an accused found not guilty cannot be held civily liable.

Interesting - that in a way seems more fair, at least you don’t end up with the sort of semi-guilty verdicts we experience now. I fully understand the positive of including the civil part in the criminal case to relieve the victim of the burden of conducting a separate law suit, doing it in a manner where the criminal part is settled first and only then proceed on to the civil part if found guilty, seems a more reasonable compromise.

A more reasonable compromise, what’s the compromise? Why is a compromise needed?

Making the civil matter dependent on the criminal matter makes a hash of the burden of proof.

Why so?

The civil standard of proof is lower than the criminal burden of proof. If you allow civil liability only after establishing criminal guilt then you’ve raised the standard of proof in the civil case to the criminal standard.

AFAIK separate in the UK too, though sometimes, depending on the nature of the case, a criminal court might order some financial recompense to the victim and/or forfeiture of assets to the state as part of the sentence.

It’s not more fair if you consider the difference between criminal responsibility and civil liability. Criminal penalties arise when you’ve done something against the laws of the state. Because the state has a lot of resources and power, people need to have some protection against getting thrown into prison unless there is a high degree of certainty that the evidence against them is sufficient to prove guilt (the criminal standard). Even with the criminal standard, some people think that a person arrested or charged “must have done it”. There is a gross imbalance between the powers of the State, and an individual.
A civil trial is between two (or more) individuals. The claimant asserts that a wrong was done to them by the respondent. To establish the wrong, they only need to show that it is more probable than not that it happened. It’s party against party, it’s not the might of the State against an individual, and it’s not the person’s liberty at stake. That’s why the standards are different. There is no “guilt” when a person has a civil judgment against them. It’s a finding that you did a wrong to another person/entity and you need to compensate them for that wrong.