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Burden of Proof in Criminal vs. Civil Lawsuits

White Collar Criminal Defense By Harvey Binnall PLLC - 2018/10/10 at 09:43pm

If you’ve been charged with a white collar criminal offense — in Virginia, Washington D.C., or elsewhere — then you may be overwhelmed by the prospect of litigation and the consequences thereof.

White collar crimes can carry serious penalties in some cases and are often associated with civil litigation that is linked to the underlying offense.  For example, if you have been charged with bank fraud, then the financial institution subjected to your scheme to defraud is likely to have a legitimate cause of action for damages (in the civil context).  They may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against you.

Quite simply, you could be a defendant in both criminal and civil litigation.  It’s important to understand that the fact that a win-or-loss in criminal or civil litigation is not necessarily indicative of how you will perform in the other “format.”  This is because of the different burdens of proof applicable to criminal and civil litigation.

Let’s take a brief look at the basics.

Burden of Proof and its Consequences

The burden of proof describes the standards necessary to establish that a fact is true.  In both criminal and civil litigation, the party “bringing” the lawsuit against the defendant — the prosecution in a criminal lawsuit, and the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit — is subject to the burden of proof.

Civil litigation has a relatively loose standard of proof.  In order to establish that a fact is true, the plaintiff need only prove it by a preponderance of the evidence.  The preponderance of the evidence standard can be described as “more likely than not” — in other words, if the plaintiff is attempting to establish that you committed civil fraud, they would have to prove that it is “more likely than not” that you engaged in knowing misrepresentation.  More likely than not may be mathematically represented by 51 percent.

Criminal litigation has a much stricter standard of proof.  In order to establish that a fact is true, the prosecution must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  The beyond a reasonable doubt standard can be mathematically represented by 99 percent.  In other words, if the prosecution is attempting to establish that you are guilty of criminal fraud, they would have to prove that there is more than a 99 percent likelihood that you engaged in knowing misrepresentation.

Given these different standards, it’s entirely possible for a defendant to “win” criminal litigation but “lose” in civil litigation.  If you’ve been forced into a difficult position in civil litigation, it’s not necessary that you panic about the related criminal case — with the aid of a skilled defense attorney, it’s still possible to avoid criminal liability.

Contact an Experienced Alexandria White Collar Defense Attorney for Guidance

Harvey & Binnall, PLLC is a boutique criminal defense and business litigation firm located in Alexandria, VA.  Our attorneys have extensive experience representing white collar criminal defendants in a range of disputes, in both state and federal courts, and advising businesses and individuals in how to limit their risk of liability given the applicable regulatory framework.  We are therefore uniquely well-positioned to navigate the complexities typical of criminal prosecutions.

Our approach to litigation is fundamentally aggressive.  We act decisively on behalf of our criminal defendant clients, and this allows us to exercise additional leverage when attempting to negotiate deals with prosecutors.

Call (703) 888-1943 or request an appointment online to speak to an experienced Alexandria white collar defense attorney at Harvey & Binnall, PLLC.