Civil Court, Forensic Evidence
Civil Court, Forensic Evidence
Civil lawsuits in civil courts often seek redress (financial compensation or repayment) to recover or restore loss due to damages inflicted by the defendant (lost wages, costs related to damage of property, financial compensation for pain and suffering, etc).
The United States court system contains two separate but parallel systems, the state and federal courts. Each of these courts has criminal and civil court divisions. Each of the court systems in the United States is governed and operated by means of specific sets of rules. In particular, the use of forensic evidence is dictated by the type of court (that is, federal criminal court, federal civil court, state criminal court, state civil court).
Civil courts deal with non-criminal matters and, although many of the procedures and rules are similar, there are fundamental differences in the burden of proof required for a verdict of guilty in a criminal trial as opposed to a verdict of "liable" in a civil trail. Because the defendant does not risk imprisonment in a civil court proceeding, the Constitutional protections afforded a defendant at civil trial are often less than those enjoyed in criminal court. For example, in a criminal trial, a suspect being tried cannot be called against their will to the witness stand to present testimony that may prove to be incriminating. According to the Constitution, a person may not be compelled to testify at his or her own criminal trail unless he or she makes an informed choice to do so. In a civil court proceeding, the plaintiff (the victim, or party making allegations against the defendant) can usually compel the perpetrator to testify under oath both before and during the trial.
Civil lawsuits may be filed regardless of the outcome of an associated criminal prosecution or lack of prosecution. A victim can sue in a civil court even if the alleged perpetrator was found "not guilty" in a criminal court.
One of the most famous examples of this involved former professional football star O. J. Simpson. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges at the state criminal court level in 1995, and later held liable for the deaths of his wife and a friend of his wife at a civil trial. In Simpson's civil trial, there was not only a lower threshold for proof of liability, Simpson was required to take the witness stand and offer testimony (something he was not required to do at his criminal trial). In the O. J. Simpson civil case the jury was unanimous in declaring Simpson liable, and he was ordered to pay penalties of roughly $8.5 million.
Civil penalties may consist of more than financial damages; the defendant may be required perform a specific action (such as community service) or refrain from a specific action (for example, not being permitted to practice medicine in a particular state). Either party has the right to appeal a civil verdict.
In criminal courts, the prosecution (the state or federal government) must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court, the plaintiff need only prove that the defendant is liable by a "preponderance of evidence" (a greater of amount of evidence indicating liability than non-liability).
A civil action begins with a complaint sworn by the plaintiff, in which he or she makes a claim against another person (the defendant). The defendant must admit or deny every allegation made by the plaintiff, and then mount a defense against them (the allegations). A defendant may also choose to counter the plaintiff's claim with a claim of his or her own, or request the court to dismiss the suit for lack of valid proof. The next phase of a civil action involves discovery, a process in which either party may ask and answer questions, provide evidence, request documentation from other relevant sources (usually via subpoena), and/or be required to undergo physical or psychological evaluation or assessment.
During the discovery phase, lawyers may question potential witnesses under oath (a deposition) including forensic experts. The goal of such depositions is to examine potential testimony, or, in some special cases, preserve the testimony of individual who may later not be able to appear at trial.
With regard to rules of evidence that include the use of forensic evidence, however, many of the same standards apply to both criminal and civil cases (rules of admissibility related to chain of custody , etc.).
The Federal Rules of Evidence are used as the standard by which the federal court system makes decisions about evidentiary admissibility (including the rules regarding the use of forensic evidence). These rules govern the introduction of evidence in proceedings, both civil and criminal, in federal courts. While they do not directly apply to suits in state courts, the rules of many state courts (both criminal and civil) are often closely modeled on federal rules.
There is discretionary ability to either set individual rules of evidence (including rules for forensic evidence) for each state or to choose to follow some, or all, of the federal rules. Generally, individual state rules of evidence are created or determined by the state legislature and then imposed on the state courts.
There are three areas of evidentiary law (rules related to the admission of evidence at trial) in which the states generally draw heavily upon text and logic set forth in the federal rules of evidence, relevancy, shared burden of proof, and admissibility of oral testimony. In determining admissibility of evidence, many of the rules look first to the concept of relevancy. Some of the tests of relevancy are: does this expert's testimony or this opinion relate to the basic questions to be answered at this trial? Is the experience of this purported expert germane to the areas of law being examined in this case? Does the admission of this piece of material evidence have direct bearing on the outcome of the case, or is there some other underlying motive by the plaintiff's or the defendant's legal counsel in bringing it forward? Does it speak to the issues at hand, or is there some reason to exclude it?
Just as in criminal cases, during a civil proceeding forensics investigators or experts may be called to offer testimony or offer expert opinion as to the collection and handling of forensic evidence or testimony related to the findings and meaning of subsequent forensic tests.
see also Frye standard; Trials, civil (U.S. law); Trials, criminal (U.S. law); Trials, international.