Taylor Swift and the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases
There are two distinct types of cases in the American justice system. Criminal cases are offenses against society, or the state (even though there is often a victim of the crime). Criminal cases are also prosecuted by the state. As an example, while one person might sexually assault another—who is certainly the victim of the crime—the act of the sexual assault is considered to be an offense against society as a whole, and is, therefore, prosecuted at the state level, or sometimes the federal level. A civil case occurs when there is a dispute between individuals, regarding the duty and responsibility they have to one another.
Civil lawsuits are often filed when one party is negligent in its duty to another. When there is an auto accident which was clearly caused by one driver, causing harm to the other driver, then a civil suit might be filed—the at-fault driver would be sued for a monetary amount by the injured driver. Not only are the punishments different between civil and criminal cases, the standard of proof is also very different. A few of the differences between civil and criminal cases include:
- In a criminal case, the accused faces jail or prison time, fines, loss of reputation, and, in sexual offense cases, possible lifetime sex offender registry. In other words, a criminal conviction can potentially devastate the life of the accused.
- A civil case, on the other hand is all about financial compensation for the harm caused by negligence or by malicious misbehavior.
- The prosecutor for a criminal offense must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the person is guilty, while a civil case is proven when the judge or jury finds that the incident probably occurred in the way the plaintiff said it did.
- Defendants charged criminally have the right to an attorney; if unable to pay for one on their own, an attorney must be provided by the state. In a civil case, the plaintiff must hire their own attorney, or represent themselves.
- In general, there are many more safeguards afforded to those charged with a criminal offense as opposed to someone who is a defendant in a civil case—again, because the consequences are much more serious in a criminal case.
Civil and Criminal Charges for the Same Offense
There can be civil and criminal charges filed for the same conduct. Most famously illustrating this is the OJ Simpson case. Simpson was charged criminally for the death of his wife and her friend, however the jury could not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The families filed a civil wrongful death suit against Simpson after his criminal acquittal, and a jury found a preponderance of evidence that Simpson did cause the death of his wife and her friend.
Taylor Swift’s Civil “Groping” Case
In the recent Taylor Swift case, there has been some confusion as to why DJ David Mueller, whom Swift says “groped” her bare bottom beneath her skirt during a photo shoot in 2013, was countersued by Swift for sexual assault and battery rather than being criminally charged for the crime. In truth, if Mueller had not sued Swift for $3 million in 2015, claiming he was fired for groping her—charges he denies—and that he was unable to secure new employment after the claim, there would not have been a civil countersuit or a criminal case.
Swift did not file criminal charges against Mueller at the time, although she did tell her mother about the incident. Swift claims she simply wanted to put the incident behind her, and that she did not want to make it the focus of her future interviews. Swift’s mother, however, spoke with Mueller’s bosses, who conducted their own independent investigation, and subsequently fired him. While most civil suits and countersuits ask for money—like Mueller’s did—Swift asked for $1, hoping to make a point rather than make money.
Because the standard of proof is much lower for a civil suit than for a criminal suit, the eight-person civil jury deliberated for less than four hours before finding a preponderance of evidence that Mueller did grope Swift—he was found liable for both assault and battery. The jury also found that neither Swift’s mother nor Frank Bell (Swift’s radio promotions director) intentionally interfered with his KYGO contract. Therefore, since civil trials are about financial compensation, the end result was that Mueller did not get $3 million from Swift, and Swift did get the $1 she asked for.
Would Mueller have been found guilty of sexual assault and battery in a criminal trial? That’s a hard one to call, but what is almost certain is that Swift would have been forced to tone down her defiance on the stand, and come across as more of a victim in order for a jury to find Mueller criminally guilty—which, when you think about it, is a somewhat sad commentary on our society.
Contact Our Milwaukee Civil Trial Lawyers
If you or someone you love has been injured, it is important to speak to an experienced Milwaukee civil trial lawyer immediately. At Aiken & Scoptur, S.C., we work tirelessly to protect Milwaukee residents who have been victims of another person’s recklessness, carelessness, or negligence.
Our Milwaukee attorneys are dedicated to getting clients the full compensation they deserve. We take all personal injury cases on contingency, so you will not pay us a fee unless we help you obtain money damages. To discuss your case with an experienced trial lawyer, call us at 414-914-2803 or contact us today. We represent clients throughout the state from offices in Wauwatosa and Wild Rose.