What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Liability in a DUI Case?

Posted on 11/24/21

Being charged criminally with driving under the influence is always serious. What many people don’t realize, though, is that there are other consequences that can result from a DUI that are totally separate from any criminal charges or issues. In addition to the criminal charges, you can be held civilly liable if you caused harm to someone else.

What Does “Criminal” Mean?

In the context of a DUI, criminal charges can be filed by the prosecutor because you broke the law. If you are found criminally guilty of a DUI, you can be sentenced to jail, be required to pay significant fines, be forced to undergo alcohol classes or treatment, participate in community service, and more. There isn’t a specific person filing charges against you in a criminal matter – it’s essentially the state/the local district attorney’s office – who is holding you responsible for your actions.

What Does “Civil” Mean?

On the other hand, you can also be held civilly liable for driving under the influence. This means that a private party sues you in an attempt to recover compensation from you for some type of damages they suffered as a result of your actions. If you are arrested for driving under the influence and you injured someone, they don’t really gain anything, even if you’re convicted of a DUI in a criminal matter. When they sue you civilly, this is where they stand to personally gain from a guilty verdict. Typically, the person who files a personal injury lawsuit against you is trying to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages for time they had to take off work, and monetary compensation for any other damages they suffered, which can sometimes include pain and suffering and non-physical injuries.

Burden of Proof

It’s important to understand that the burden of proof is different in criminal trials than in civil trials. The burden of proof refers to how strong the case against you must be for you to be found guilty. In a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof in the United States. Each and every element of the criminal charges must be proven, and this burden must be met. This doesn’t mean that there’s no doubt whatsoever, but the standard is very high.

In civil cases, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning it is “easier” for you to be found guilty at a civil trial than a criminal one. The plaintiff and their attorney must simply show that it is more likely than not that you are guilty of what they are claiming you did. In this case, they would need to prove that you were under the influence, you were driving, and your drunk driving caused injuries or damages to them in some way.

Both Can Have Devastating Consequences

Both criminal charges and civil lawsuits can have potentially life-altering consequences. If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, it’s important to consult with a Waterbury DUI accident lawyer as soon as possible.