Civil Consequences of Criminal Cases
By Kevin E. Hexstall, Esq. and Mohamed Bakry, Esq.*
The disposition of a criminal case may affect the criminal defendant and/or his employer (company) in later civil litigation. Any defense strategy should consider the potential collateral consequences of the criminal case. The disposition of the criminal case may affect a later civil suit regarding the same incident when the criminal defendant is sued civilly for money damages by the “victim.” A variety of issues may also arise when the “victim” sues the defendant’s employer if the defendant was acting in the course of employment during the alleged criminal conduct. Evidentiary hearings that may not affect the ultimate disposition of the criminal case, such as a probable cause hearing or a suppression hearing, may affect a later civil suit. A criminal defense client should be advised of potential collateral civil consequences of the criminal action so he is fully informed when making decisions regarding the disposition of the criminal case.
A “not guilty” finding at trial puts the defendant (and his employer) in the best position to defend the subsequent civil case. Obtaining a dismissal of all charges could also be relatively favorable to the individual defendant, as well as the company, in a civil suit. A guilty plea to certain charges makes potential civil claims extremely difficult to defend. However, it must be noted that acquittals or dismissals do not necessarily mean that your client will suffer no further consequences. There are multiple proceedings within criminal cases that may result in admissions and evidentiary findings that will be highly relevant in the subsequent civil matter.
In Pennsylvania, as with many other states, a defendant accused of an offense graded as a misdemeanor or felony is entitled to a preliminary hearing, otherwise known as a probable cause hearing. The Commonwealth is required to present evidence to establish the elements of each charged crime at prima facie level. A preliminary hearing, or probable cause hearing, is often recorded or transcribed by the stenographer, and the testimony could also be used in subsequent civil cases. Moreover, judicial findings are often made in preliminary hearings and could be used in civil cases. In addition to hearings where testimony is provided, there are also criminal hearings where admissions are made as to certain facts. While these admissions may not result in a finding of guilt in a criminal matter, they have great implications in civil matters regarding the finding of liability.
An employer may be held responsible for money damages where there are facts in the criminal matter that arise out of the day-to-day business activities of the company. Furthermore, the finding of certain elements within a criminal statute could result in increased monetary damages for either the defendant or the defendant’s employer. For example, an admission of “recklessness” in a criminal matter could invoke punitive damages in the subsequent civil case.
Additional civil consequences that often result from criminal matters range from immigration issues, such as the deportation of the employee, to suspended or terminated licenses (i.e. drivers license, professional license or even a business license). Examples of other licenses that could be affected if certain thresholds are met in a criminal case are: (many) professional licenses, security guard registration, board of education, taxi and limousine commission, real estate broker’s license and special contractors who are required to obtain licenses before rendering services. Criminal proceedings may also affect individuals with positions in public office. Employment as a police officer, firefighter, court officer, law enforcement jobs, notary public and other elected officers could be affected in many ways, including termination due to criminal consequences. Lastly, certain criminal convictions could have a major impact on an individual’s future education, current residence and future employment/business opportunities.
As civil/criminal defense attorneys, we are in the best position to thoroughly evaluate all criminal and future civil consequences in an attempt to fully protect the client’s interest. We are obviously focused on eliminating any possibility of convictions that could affect the individual’s future, the company’s future or any other collateral consequences. However, one of our goals in performing that task is to eliminate any negative effect on the name brand or the reputation of a client or his employer. Our experience allows us to counsel the client in an attempt to minimize any present and future risks. Our longstanding reputation and experience often allows us to confer with prosecuting officials prior to trial and ultimately resolve matters in a fashion that considers the possible criminal and civil consequences to our client.
*Kevin is a shareholder in our Philadelphia, Pennsylvania office who can be reached at 215.575.2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Mohamed, an associate in our Philadelphia office, can be reached at 267.295.4042 or email@example.com.
Defense Digest, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2014
Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2014 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.