Does the burden of proof differ between a criminal case and a wrongful death lawsuit?


A criminal case differs greatly from a wrongful death lawsuit—a type of civil case. For example, suppose a Machesney Park man drove down North Second Street while under the influence of alcohol, fell asleep at the wheel, and crashed head-on into another vehicle—killing the driver.

Once police arrest and charge the perpetrator with one or more crimes, the prosecutor will work on behalf of the state to see that he is punished for his crimes—typically with prison time or probation. While the prosecuting attorney may be very sympathetic to the deceased victim’s family, his job is to protect the interests of the state. In order to obtain a conviction, he might bargain with the defense team—reducing or even dropping certain charges.

A wrongful death lawsuit is different in that the purpose of the suit is not to prove criminal guilt or innocence or to imprison the at-fault party. The purpose is to establish that the perpetrator was responsible for the accident that caused the wrongful death and to compel him to pay monetary damages to compensate the victim’s family for the loss.

The burden of proof differs as follows between the two different types of cases:

  • In a criminal case, the burden of proof rests solely on the prosecution. The courts presume the perpetrator is innocent until the prosecution proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, every element of the charges.
  • In a wrongful death case, the standard of proof is much lower than the standard for a criminal case. Liability for wrongful death must be proven by a fair preponderance of evidence, meaning that the more persuasive side wins the suit.

If we can answer any questions for you during this stressful time, do not hesitate to contact us via phone or email. Our consultations are always free.