Can Civil Cases have Criminal Implications?

Updated on April 11th, 2024 at 06:15 pm

In the District of Columbia, when a person petitions the court for a Civil Protection Order, it is the petitioner’s burden to prove that an intrafamily offense occurred. Although such cases are civil, you cannot help but wonder, can civil cases have criminal implications?

A case can be civil and criminal because each proceeding uses different standards to resolve the problem. Someone can break criminal law and still have wronged a private individual with the same action.

Civil Protection Orders are unique in that they mix criminal law and civil litigation because of specific rules that regulate these matters under the Domestic Violence Division at D.C. Superior Court.

What Is the Difference Between a Civil Case and a Criminal Case?

Civil cases are generally disputes between organizations or people, while criminal cases are a violation of criminal law.

Civil law is usually more flexible and at the victim’s discretion. In cases of domestic abuse and a Civil Protection Order, the victim asks the court to provide financial and physical protection from their abuser. However, they still need to prove the abuse happened.

In a civil law case, the abuser may not go to jail, but there are consequences if they violate the CPO or don’t pay damages. In a civil case, the victim can decide not to proceed with legal action if their situation changes or the parties come to an agreement.

Criminal law is stricter and more severe and involves the United States courts trying to determine if the criminal defendant did the crime, which can include:

  • Murder
  • Physical abuse/assault
  • Owning a firearm illegally
  • Sexual abuse or rape
  • Stalking

If your domestic abuse case involved any of the above, it also counts as a criminal case. In criminal cases, the court (not the victim) charges the abuser. So, the victim might decide to drop the charges, but the prosecutor decides to proceed with the case.

Civil Law vs. Criminal Law According To Domestic Violence Division at DC Superior Court

Civil cases with criminal implications in Washington, D.C., encompass a range of legal scenarios where civil matters intertwine with potential criminal consequences.

Discovery Rights

Unlike a criminal case, automatic discovery rules do not apply when a Civil Protection Order is initiated. Rule 8 of the Domestic Violence Division Rules governs discovery practice. If either party wishes to receive discovery before the hearing, the party must motion the court and state whether there is a pending criminal case involving the same facts alleged in the Civil Protection Order case and attach proposed interrogatories, requests for production, or requests for admission.

This motion must be filed not later than 7 days after the respondent was served with the petition. Even if a party requests discovery, there is no guarantee the court will grant the request if good cause has not been shown with regard to the nature of the proceedings.

5th Amendment Protections

In some cases, a criminal case arising from the same facts may be pending simultaneously with a Civil Protection Order case. If the respondent is a defendant in the criminal case, he may believe he can invoke his 5th Amendment right to protect himself against self-incrimination by not testifying and delaying the civil protection hearing until after the criminal case is complete.

However, DV Rule 12(b)(4) of the Domestic Violence Rules prohibits the respondent’s decision to testify or not during a civil protection hearing be used against him and is inadmissible as evidence in a delinquency proceeding or criminal trial.

The only exception to the rule is his testimony, which can be used in a prosecution for perjury or false statements. Since this rule exists, a judge will unlikely delay the Civil Protection Order hearing until after a criminal case based on a 5th Amendment claim.

Reasonable Doubt vs. Preponderance of Evidence Standard

Though the judge in a Civil Protection Order hearing needs to find that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against a petitioner, the required proof level is much lower than necessary in a criminal case. As most people know, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime for the person to be found guilty.

In a Civil Protection Order case, the judge only needs to find good cause to believe the respondent committed the offense. This standard is known as the preponderance of evidence, which can be defined as “more likely than not” or “more than a 50% chance” that the offense occurred.

Motions To Reconsider and Appeal Rights

If a party disagrees with the court’s findings after a Civil Protection Order hearing, they can motion the court to reconsider its ruling. Rule DV 7(j) details the following grounds for this motion:

  • The court failed to consider material fact or an applicable law
  • New evidence has been found that couldn’t have been found before the ruling, judgment, or order
  • A law has recently been changed, and the court has recently found out
  • No reason is stated for the court order
  • Misconduct, misrepresentation, or fraud by the opposing party
  • Surprise, inadvertence, mistake, excusable neglect, or any justifiable reason for relief

A motion to reconsider should be filed within 28 days after the order is entered. If a party’s motion to reconsider is denied, they could file a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. This notice must be filed within 30 days of the motion’s denial to reconsider.

However, a party is not required to file a motion to reconsider with the court before filing a notice of appeal. After the Civil Protection Order is issued, a party can appeal this order by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days with the Court of Appeals. It is important to note that filing a motion to reconsider or a notice of appeal does not change or suspend the Civil Protection Order while the motion and appeal are pending.

Do You Need an Attorney for a Domestic Violence Case?

Whether the case is criminal or civil, it’s important to hire an attorney like Bruckheim & Patel. Your legal representation is your best chance of winning the case. Unfortunately, courts aren’t lenient on individuals involved in domestic violence cases because they have no attorney.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, it’s crucial to note that the opposing counsel will work hard to question your recollection of events and experiences and reduce it to look like it’s not a big deal. Without an attorney, you may never get the justice you deserve. Moreover, your attorney will guide you on what you should request the court for and how protective orders will work for you.

Contact Bruckheim & Patel

If you are interested in petitioning for a Civil Protection Order or someone has filed a Civil Protective Order against you, contact Bruckheim & Patel to speak with an experienced DC CPO lawyer for a free, confidential consultation.

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