Although a rather rare occurrence, a civil lawsuit can potentially prompt a criminal investigation and subsequently a criminal case if evidence showing criminal action is uncovered during the civil case proceedings. It’s more common for a criminal act to also be the subject of a civil case in which the victim of the crime is seeking redress for damages caused during the alleged criminal act.
It’s important to emphasize a civil case or a criminal case doesn’t morph into another type of case. Civil cases are generally brought by civil litigators on behalf a plaintiff seeking damages.
State prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers play different roles in our judicial system. Charges would need to be brought by the state, and the defendant might need to hire a criminal defense team separate from their civil defense team.
When Might a Civil Lawsuit Lead to Criminal Charges?
A company may file a civil lawsuit against a contractor or service provider who breached their contract. If the plaintiff’s lawyers uncover evidence of insurance fraud or embezzlement during their investigation, the situation may be referred to the state for criminal investigation.
Drunk driving accident cases are a fairly common example of an act that often results in both criminal and civil cases. If a drunk driver gets into an accident that results in fatalities in Minnesota, they could face up to 10 years and prison and could potentially be fined up to $20,000 by the state. The criminal case would be entirely separate from a civil wrongful death case brought by the family of the driver who was killed in the accident.
Key Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases
There are several differences in how civil and criminal cases are handled.
While civil and criminal cases may cover the same act of wrongdoing, recklessness or negligence, they are typically handled as entirely separate legal proceedings.
Civil cases involve disputes between two parties, often private individuals or companies. The plaintiff decides if they wish to file a lawsuit.
In criminal cases, the defendant is formally charged with a crime and prosecuted by a state or federal attorney. It’s technically the state, not the victims of a crime, who initiates criminal proceedings. This could be potentially frustrating to victims who believe a crime occurred but lack the ability to force state prosecutors to file criminal charges.
Typically, the state’s statute of limitations enforces a timeline within which victims can file their civil claims. In Minnesota, the statute of limitations on civil proceedings is usually two years, although there are exceptions and extensions for certain circumstances.
The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution in Minnesota is more diverse, ranging from three years for misdemeanors to five, six or nine years for more serious crimes. Certain criminal offenses have no statute of limitations, like murder or trafficking a minor.
Proving a Case Is Different in Civil Versus Criminal Proceedings
In a civil case, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. This means that if you’re suing a doctor for medical malpractice or seeking damages from a company whose defective product caused you injuries, you and your legal team are solely responsible for gathering evidence to prove your case.
However, in criminal cases, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, meaning the state or the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.
There Are Different Punitive Consequences in Civil Versus Criminal Cases
A civil case is usually filed so that the plaintiff can be awarded fair compensation for the things they went through and the costs they incurred in the aftermath of their injury. These damages typically include things like medical expenses, lost wages, and mental and emotional pain and suffering. The compensation must be paid by either the defendant or their insurance company.
A criminal case can have much more severe and life-altering consequences, including jail time, probation and fines paid to the court. A criminal court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim, but the role of a criminal case generally isn’t to award the victim full compensation for their damages.
Get Legal Help with Your Criminal Case or Civil Case in Minnesota
Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area residents who’ve been involved in criminal cases or civil cases can contact the Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service for help finding local representation. If you’ve been accused of a crime or wish to pursue a civil case for damages relating to a crime, our friendly referral counselors will help you find a qualified attorney.
Call us at (612) 752-6699 to schedule your free consultation.