In the spring of 2005, a man who was heavily intoxicated barreled down U.S. Highway 278 shortly before Midnight in Double Springs. He slammed into another vehicle head-on, and the other driver was killed. The drunk driver was severely injured, suffering traumatic brain injury.
A year later, he was indicted by a grand jury on vehicular homicide for causing the death with criminal negligence by committing three traffic violations – driving drunk, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road. However, before trial, defendant was deemed not competent to stand trial, and the criminal trial judge dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning they couldn’t be refiled. The state didn’t appeal this order.
But then six years later, the state moved to indict again on these same charges, in spite of that order, on grounds defendant’s condition had improved. Recently, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the charges based on the new indictment, finding prosecutors never sought modification of that “with prejudice” order, and therefore had not covered all their procedural bases.
Our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers understand what an emotion journey this must have been for the victim’s surviving family. While a criminal conviction will never bring a loved one back, it can help to provide a sense of justice and a measure of closure.
But because the standards of our criminal justice system are so high, there are some circumstances in which that kind of conclusion may not be realized.
The point we want to make is that criminal charges are not necessary for a civil case to proceed. The two are totally separate and independent of one another, requiring differing degrees of proof, varying rules for the collection of evidence and with the ultimate goal of different outcomes.
For example, criminal cases seek to punish the offender, while civil injury cases seek to make whole the victim. There may be some elements of the cases wherein the goals overlap, but they are still on separate tracks.
In a case like this, criminal courts require defendants be competent to stand trial in order to be held accountable for criminal wrongdoing. The same is not necessarily true in a civil case because the goal is not punishing the offender. The only questions to be decided are whether defendant acted with negligence with regard to a duty of care owed plaintiff, whether that negligence proximately caused plaintiff injury and whether plaintiff injury warrants compensation.
However, it’s worth noting that time constraints on both types of cases differ. Here, Alabama state law allows criminal prosecution of any felony resulting in serious physical injury or death has no statute of limitations in which charges must be filed. However, rules of civil procedure hold that wrongful death claims have to be filed within two years of the date of death, with only rare exceptions to this rule.
We understand the emotional strain families endure during this difficult time, which is why we recommend consulting with an experienced injury attorney as soon as possible, to help navigate all avenues of justice.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.
Alabama v. Hendrix, Feb. 6, 2015, Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
More Blog Entries:
MADD: Alabama Gets Five Stars for Drunk Driving Prevention, Feb. 4, 2015, Montgomery Accident Lawyer Blog