I was sitting at work yesterday, thumbing through a copy (not mine, I assure you) of one of our finer supermarket rags when I came across a story about how the Goldman family has yet to see a dime of the 30 million dollar judgment they won from O.J. Simpson in their civil trial. It reminded me of a question I’ve wondered about since the trial.
As I recall, O.J. was acquitted of the murder of their son by a jury of his peers. Now, maybe I’m a little naive when it comes to legal issues, but answer me this: If he was found not guilty, how could the Goldmans have possibly won that judgment? Didn’t a jury already rule that he was legally not responsible for Ron’s death?
Put it another way–say I’m falsely accused of murder and then acquitted. Can the victim’s family still come after me and bankrupt me just because they didn’t like the verdict? Isn’t that wrong?
Just to be clear, I’m not debating O.J.'s guilt or innocence here. I’m just wondering how this happens.
I’m sure someone will be along soon to provide a more detailed explanation, but i’m pretty sure that a key reason for this is that the burden of proof is different in a civil trial than it is in a criminal trial. For O.J. to be found guilty at his criminal trial, the jury would have had to believe him guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or whatever the exact language is.
But, if i remember the story correctly, such a strict standard is not required in order to find for the plaintiff in a civil suit. The wording i remember is something along the lines of “the preponderance of the evidence,” or something similar.
As i said, i’m sure someone who knows more about this will be along soon to add more information.
What mhendo said. “Preponderance of the evidence” means “more likely than not.” In percentage terms, you can think of it as 51% or more chance that he did it. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” on the other hand is a much higher standard – closer to 100%. So two juries could look at the same set of facts, and say, “I think it’s more likely than not that he did it.” For the criminal jury, that’s not enough for a conviction. For the civil jury, that’s enough for a liability verdict.
As for the other part of the OP, OJ’s guilty…oops, I mean, I thought that there was some big auction of all of Simpson’s property (that wasn’t shielded by, say, Florida’s quite generous homestead laws) and the proceeds of that went toward the civil judgment. I specifically remember something about how the name plaque from his Heisman trophy was mysteriously missing…
“Not Guilty” does not mean innocent. I think it would be more accurate to say “Not Proven”. I was on a jury where we acquitted the defendant on one charge because the prosecution had a weak case on that specific charge. We found the defendant guilty on another charge, where the evidence was much stronger. If it had been a civil case, the defendant would probably have been found liable for both charges.
Another point was that the evidence at the civil trial was somewhat different from the criminal trial, if I recall correctly.
At the criminal trial, the shoeprint expert testified that from the bloody footprints, he could conclude that the murderer wore a particular brand of fancy leather shoes.
OJ denied in a statement ever having such “ugly ass shoes”.
After the criminal trial was over, a sports photographer who had no connection to the case was going through his old photos and came across some that he had taken of OJ at some awards ceremony - and guess what - he was wearing that particular brand of “ugly ass shoes”.
Now, that by itself didn’t prove OJ did it - after all, the pair of shoes that he was wearing in the photo were not available to be compared to the bloody footprints. But, this sort of thing is relevant to credibility of a witness.
At the civil trial, the plaintiffs were able to enter the photos as evidence, and cross-examine OJ on his earlier denial. The civil jury was able to take into account that OJ had denied having such a pair of shoes, but the photos showed him wearing them. That was a factor they could take into account in deciding whether or not they believed his testimony generally.
Not an option in American jurisprudence. Scottish jurisprudence has the “not proven” option in addition to guilty and NG. Or it did, anyway; I’m not an expert on Scottish jurisprudence so I don’t know if it’s retained. Nor do I know what if any differences there are between a NG and a NP. Any learned Scotsmen about?
It’s quite possible for someone to have committed act X and the following be true:[ul]
[li]The criminal justice system charges him with a crime for committing Act X.[/li][li]He is acquitted at trial even though he admits to the commission of Act X because there was no intent to commit a crime. (Whatever X was requires criminal intent to be a crime; he committed it “innocently” in the belief he could legally do it.)[/li][li]Act X however deprived someone else of something valuable to them.[/li][li]They can sue and collect in civil court for his having done it[/li][/ul]
For example, Smith sells a piece of property to Brown that he believes himself to own. It turns out that title to that property is in the hands of Jones. The D.A. charges him with grand larceny for collecting money from Brown for property he doesn’t own. It goes to trial, and it’s established that Smith had every reason to believe that he in fact owned the property, and in fact told Brown, after the Jones claim surfaced, that he’d refund the purchase price if it turned out he didn’t own it. So the jury acquits him of any criminal intent. But:
[ul][li]Jones is peeved that the trees he was growing to sell for timber were cleared off the land.[/li][li]Brown paid good money to have the land surveyed, clear the area where he planned to build a house, and pour a foundation for it.[/ul][/li]
So Brown and Jones sue Smith for the money they’re out as a result of his attempted sale of the land.
And they collect, because both suffered loss owing to what Smith did that he had no legal right to do.