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March 4, 2015

Consequences Of A Criminal Conviction On Civil Litigation

By Michael H. Joseph

Our New York attorneys practice both criminal defense and personal injury litigation as such, we are familiar with both sides of the coin when there is a criminal conviction and a pending or possible related civil action. This situation occurs most frequently in cases involving car and truck accidents where one of the parties was drunk and has a pending DWI charge. Another common situation arises where there is an assault (including sexual assault) arrest and the victim brings a personal injury suit. Finally the most common situation involves cases where the police falsely arrest someone and the result of the criminal action will affect the civil action.

All of these situations involve a legal doctrine which is called colllateral estoppel. The Courts invoke collateral estopel where an issue which was decided in a criminal proceeding may be given preclusive effect in a subsequent civil action.Collateral estoppel is an equitable doctrine and the underlying theory of the doctrine, is the general notion that a party should not be permitted to relitigate an issue decided against it. There are two requirements for collateral estoppel to apply, which are that the identical issue was necessarily decided in the prior action and is decisive in the present action and the party to be precluded from relitigating an issue must have had a full and fair opportunity to contest the prior determination. Typically, the threat of a prosecution is a powerful and weighty factor, which forces defendants to trade risk for certainty and accept a plea bargain. In certain circumstances, the Courts will apply colllateral estoppel in the civil case where there was a criminal conviction. Our New York City personal injury attorneys are familiar with and have litigated collateral estoppel issues in many different factual contexts.

In the assault and battery context, which includes sexual assaults, the Courts have granted summary judgment to Plaintiff’s where there was a conviction based upon intentional conduct because the elements of criminal assault and civil battery are essentially the same. To prove a civil assault and battery, the plaintiff need only show that the defendant intended to inflict personal injury on him without his consent, that the defendant took action to carry out that intent, and that he did in fact injure him. Where a Defendant pleads guilty to criminal charges and in their allocution in the criminal action, admits to the underlying elements of the civil cause of action, the plea of guilty is equivalent to a conviction after trial, consequently, the defendant is precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel from relitigating this issue in the instant civil action.

Our Westchester county criminal defense lawyers have also defended many cases involving false arrest. If the client wants to pursue a civil suit, they must be aware that any criminal conviction will establish a presumption of probable cause for an arrest, which will be fatal to a false arrest or malicious prosecution claim because to prove either, the Plaintiff needs to establish a lack of probable cause.

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