Some accidents and injuries can lead to both criminal charges and civil liability. Assault and battery, for example, are both criminal actions and intentional torts. A car accident that results in the death of a person can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit and manslaughter charges. Trespassing is both a crime and a civil wrong.
If an accident or injury results in both criminal and civil penalties, these will proceed as two separate cases. A criminal court will handle any criminal charges and a civil court will handle any civil causes of action that a plaintiff may choose to file.
Maryland Statue of Limitations for Intentional Torts
One of the most critical things to take note of if you wish to bring a personal injury claim for an intentional tort is the statute of limitations. In Maryland, you will have a three year time period following the injury in which to file a claim. The exception is if you are filing a claim for assault. The time period in which to bring an assault claim is only one year following the injury.
Criminal Proceedings vs Civil Proceedings in Maryland
Criminal court proceedings are different from civil court proceedings. First, you have different burdens of proof in a criminal case versus a civil case. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden to meet. In a civil case, the burden is a preponderance of the evidence, which is much lower.
A defendant has different rights in a criminal court proceeding. For example, defendants in criminal court have a right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one. There is no similar right in civil court. The party pressing charges also differs between criminal and civil courts. In a criminal case, the State is pursuing charges against the defendant, in order to seek justice for the victim. In a civil court, the plaintiff brings forth his or her own case. In addition, there are different rules of evidence and procedure in criminal and civil cases.
Criminal Court Process In Maryland
A case begins in criminal court in Maryland with a charging document. A charging document is "a written accusation alleging that the defendant has committed a crime." The charging document may be a citation, an information, a statement of charges, or an indictment. After a charging document is filed the court will issue a summons or an arrest warrant. The summons will request a defendant's appearance at a preliminary inquiry. At the inquiry, the person being charged will be advised of his or her rights, the charges against them, and the penalties they are facing.
If instead a defendant is arrested, within 24 hours he or she will make an initial appearance. At the initial appearance, before a judicial officer, typically a District Court commissioner, the defendant is "advised of (1) the offense charged; (2) the right to counsel; and (3) the right to a preliminary hearing, if applicable." The defendant may get a trial date at the initial appearance or they may be notified later by mail. If the defendant was not arrested pursuant to an arrest warrant, then the judicial officer "must determine whether there was probable cause for the arrest." If probable cause is found, then the commissioner must determine if the defendant can be released prior to trial. If denied release, then the defendant is "entitled to a bail review hearing before a judge."
A defendant charged with certain felonies has a right to a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is used "to determine whether probable cause exists that the defendant committed the felony." If a defendant is charged with an indictment from a grand jury, then there is no right to a preliminary hearing because the grand jury determined there was probable cause to charge the defendant.
Similar to a civil case, criminal cases have a discovery phase as well. During discovery, the "State's Attorney is required to furnish or permit inspection of certain material and information about the case to the defendant." The extent of information the State must turn over depends on if the criminal trial is in District or Circuit court. In addition, the defendant must make certain disclosures to the state.
Like in a civil case where the plaintiff and defense often engage in settlement discussions, the defense and prosecution in a criminal case may engage in plea bargaining. In a plea agreement the defendant typically "agrees to enter a guilty plea in exchange for the State's agreement to reduce the charges or to recommend a sentence less than the maximum allowed by law."
The trial phase of a criminal case is similar to a civil case. The prosecution and defense both making opening statements. The prosecution then presents evidence indicating the defendant's guilt. Once the prosecution rests, the defense begins its case-in-chief. After the defense rests, the prosecution has an opportunity to make a rebuttal. The two sides together with the judge then determine what instructions will be given to the jury. Finally, the prosecution and defense make closing arguments, with the prosecution again having an opportunity for rebuttal. The judge then instructs the jury using the agreed upon instructions and the jury retires to deliberate the defendant's fate. Once the jury has reached a verdict, the verdict is read to the court. If the defendant is found guilty, then the case will enter a sentencing phase. A sentence can be issued immediately after the verdict or later on, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Civil Court Process In Maryland
A civil case begins when a complaint is filed in the proper court. The complaint is a document that “states the basis for the court's jurisdiction, the basis for the plaintiff's claim, and the demand for relief.” Black's Law Dictionary 323 (9th Ed. 2009).The defendant then files an answer where he or she responds to the allegations in the complaint and raises any counterclaims he or she may have as well as any relevant affirmative defenses. A defendant can also file a motion prior to answering the complaint. A motion is “[a] written or oral application requesting a court to make a specified ruling or order.” Black's Law Dictionary 1107 (9th ed. 2009). Certain defenses, such as a lack of jurisdiction or improper venue must be raised in a pre-answer motion to dismiss or the defendant loses the right to assert those defenses. If the judge denies the motion to dismiss, the defendant must then file an answer.
The case then enters the discovery phase. During discovery, each side builds their case by gathering relevant evidence to support their position. Common discovery devices are requests for admission, requests for production, interrogatories, and depositions. In addition, each side may retain an expert witness to use at trial. An expert witness is "person who, through education or experience, has developed skill or knowledge in a particular subject, so that he or she may form an opinion that will assist the fact-finder." Black's Law Dictionary 660 (9th Ed. 2009). Once discovery is completed the case moves to trial.
During the litigation process, the parties are often engaged in settlement discussions, attempting to come to a mutually beneficial resolution to the case, so as to forego the need for a trial. Pre-trial settlements are quite common, with about 95% of cases filed settle prior to going to trial.
Civil trials follow a similar pattern to criminal trials. The plaintiff and defense both present opening arguments to the jury. The plaintiff then presents his or her case. Instead of presenting evidence that the defendant is guilty, the plaintiff presents evidence the defendant is liable for the plaintiff's injuries or property damage. The defendant then presents evidence that he or she is not liable. The plaintiff can then rebut the defendant's evidence and the defendant can do the same. Once each side has rested, the parties present closing arguments. The judge then instructs the jury on the applicable law in the case and the jury begins deliberations. Once the jury has reached a verdict, the verdict is read to the court. The judge then enters a judgment based on the jury verdict.
If you or a loved one has been injured or in an accident, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian. Our attorneys have years of experience handling personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Contact our office today for a free consultation.