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Effects of a criminal plea on a civil case

As you are surely aware there are two basic types of court cases, civil and criminal. In a criminal case, the state alleges that some person has violated the criminal code and should be punished by fine or incarceration. Civil cases involve two private parties, or occasionally the government, and seek to settle a dispute or determine liability for an injury.

In many instances a situation leads to only one or the other of these types of cases. A contractual business dispute will generally not also invoke criminal charges, and a drug possession case will most often not also involve a civil suit. But in some instances, such as a drunk driving accident in which innocent people are injured, both criminal and civil matters can arise from the same basic conduct.

This could very well be the situation after a Michigan woman apparently struck a family of pedestrians while driving under the influence of alcohol. Drunk driving resulting in bodily harm can be prosecuted criminally, and the injured parties will likely also have a civil claim for the injuries that they suffered as a result of the drunk driver's actions.

In this case the woman ran into a family of three, seriously injuring the mother, breaking several bones in the father and causing less serious injuries. Yesterday the driver pled no contest to criminal charges and faces up to five years in prison when she is sentenced.

A no contest plea means that the person does not admit guilt, but that they also do not contest the charges. From a criminal standpoint, it has much the same effect as a guilty plea, but will generally allow the defendant to avoid having an admission of guilt used against them in a subsequent civil case.

Source: The Grand Rapids Press, "60-year-old woman pleads to drunk driving crash that hit a family of pedestrians," Barton Deiters, Nov. 15, 2011

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