Civil and Criminal Law in the USA
Copyright 1998 by Ronald B. Standler
Table of Contents
effect of punishment
burden of proof
protections for criminal defendants
If an act was lawful when it was performed, the performer can not be convicted of a crime as a result of a law enacted after the performance.
This protection takes two forms:
- A defendant who is found “not guilty” of a more serious charge can not have a second trial on a lesser included offense. For example, if D is found “not guilty” on a charge of felony murder (e.g., incidental killing of someone during the commission of a felony, such as robbery), then D can not be tried for the underlying felony (e.g., robbery).
However, it is possible to try a defendant in criminal court and then try the same defendant again in civil court, for the same event. The most common example of such two trials is a criminal prosecution for homicide and then have a second trial for the same defendant for the tort of wrongful death: the most famous example of this situation is the cases of O.J. Simpson. While legal scholars carefully explain the distinction between criminal and civil law, the plain fact is that one can be tried twice for the same event. Another situation in which one can have two trials for the same event is a prosecution under state law (e.g., for assault and battery) in a state court, then a second prosecution in a federal court under federal statute (e.g., civil rights violation).
Indigent defendants have the right to an attorney who is paid by the state, even during custodial questioning by police. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
It may come as a surprise to know that these protections are not available in civil law.
In civil law, an attorney may request documents or a visit inside a building. (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34). In civil law, an attorney may demand information from the opposing party about any matter that is relevant to the case, provided that information is not privileged. In civil law, an attorney may properly demand information that would be inadmissible at trial, if such demand “appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1). An attorney may even take the deposition of nonparties in a civil case, and require them to bring documents with them. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30, 34(c).