How Does Criminal Justice Differ from Civil Justice When it Comes to Wrongful Death?

One morning, your son was on his way to an early class at Rock Valley College. As he headed north on Mulford Road, just past the intersection at Spring Creek Road, a southbound driver drifted into the northbound lane and plowed head-on into his car. Emergency workers transported him to OSF Saint Anthony Hospital, where he died three days later. You found out that the southbound driver was drunk at the time of the crash. You are devastated and angry and you want the drunk driver punished, but you are confused about how legal action might work.

Following is a summary to help you to understand how the criminal justice system and the civil justice system might treat this tragic situation:

Criminal Case

A criminal case begins when an accident is reported to police. Police investigate the accident and determine whether to arrest and bring charges against the suspect. The crime is considered a “crime against the state” and, although the prosecutor may be very helpful to the deceased victim’s family, his duty is to represent the state—not the victim or his family. The goal is to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the suspect is guilty and then punish him for his crime.

Civil Case

A civil case, or wrongful death lawsuit in this example, does not try to determine criminal guilt or innocence or even put the suspect in prison. Instead, it attempts to establish that the suspect bears responsibility for the accident that resulted in the death of the victim. This finding of liability typically results in the suspect being ordered to pay the victim or the victim’s family monetary damages and often provides a sense of justice that did not occur during the criminal proceeding.

If you have lost a loved one in an accident, contact us today to set up a free meeting to discuss your situation. You may also wish to peruse our on-line library, which contains helpful information on wrongful death lawsuits.