Recently it has been reported that an Indianapolis man accused of murdering a metropolitan police officer has taken the brazen step to initiate a civil suit for damages against the officer he is accused of murdering.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages against the deceased officer claiming that wrongful and excessive force resulted in irreparable injuries inflicted upon the individual presently on trial for the officer’s murder.
It goes without mention that such actions offend the sensibilities of most reasonable citizens. It seems most foolhardy for an individual within criminal proceedings that can result in the death penalty to further antagonize potential jurors or a judge who may ultimately determine his fate should he be found guilty of murder.
However, for the purposes of this posting allow me to take the opportunity to explain how the initiation of such a lawsuit may also prove to be a tactical legal mistake during the course of this individual’s criminal prosecution.
Within our country’s history case verdicts are replete with evidence underscoring the reality that innocent individuals are wrongfully injured and/or prosecuted for crimes they are not found guilty of committing each year. As a result, our justice system has civil forums for such individuals to seek recompense where they can seek monetary compensation for injuries wrongfully inflicted upon them, whether those injuries are physical or mental.
In the case of individuals who allege injury caused by the hands of a state governmental actor, Indiana law requires that what is called a Tort Claim Notice to be served upon any and all government agencies and/or officials who may later be the subject of a civil lawsuit as a prelude to properly initiated civil court proceedings in Indiana.
As such, an aggrieved individual is protected upon serving such a notice from having his or her lawsuit later thrown out of court so long as a later filed civil lawsuit complaint is filed within the applicable statute of limitations in the state of Indiana.
This legal procedural process is most significant to the central issue of how to best preserve an individual’s civil rights toward subsequently bringing forth a civil lawsuit while most effectively defending his or herself within the course of a pending criminal prosecution.
One of the first actions I take when learning of such a civil a lawsuit undertaken by a criminal defendant is to determine whether the individual filing such a civil lawsuit is represented by legal counsel. Absent exceptional circumstances I believe it to be legal malpractice for a criminal defense lawyer to compromise a Defendant’s right to a fair trial by allowing evidence of such a lawsuit to potentially be permitted to become a focal point of contention within a pending criminal prosecution.
Not surprisingly, this individual’s decision to initiate such a civil lawsuit prior to the criminal case being completed was apparently done without the assistance or endorsement of legal counsel.
As formerly stated, even if an individual’s civil contentions later prove meritorious, it is most unwise to proceed with such civil allegations against a police officer, much less a deceased officer whose actions may prove heroic, while a criminal prosecution is pending.
Why? Not for the obvious reasons formerly spoken of whereby such contentions made without legal merit may prove to unduly slander the good name of a deceased officer and outrage the sensibilities of a judge or jury.
Rather, because in most all legal circumstances an individual has a constitutional right not to testify against oneself during the course of a criminal prosecution. However, once that same individual has publicly filed civil allegations made against an officer whose actions are central to a criminal determination of guilt or innocence, state prosecutors may be able to compel the Defendant’s testimony as a witness against himself within his own prosecution.
For this reason civil justice can not only wait, but must wait in order to present the most effective legal defense possible during the course of a criminal prosecution. By safeguarding all of one’s constitutional rights, a Defendant properly advised by counsel can best be in position to preserve his or her liberty following a successful criminal trial outcome. Upon garnering a not guilty verdict, a properly safeguarded civil lawsuit may commence at a more appropriate time both strategically and procedurally so as to not allow a monetary motive to play a contributing role in restricting one’s future freedom.
No matter whether a criminal prosecution is one for which the death penalty may result, the above referenced analysis must be applied to any and all criminal cases whether a misdemeanor or felony offense. No matter the severity of the crime alleged within the state of Indiana, the rules of evidence govern what facts and or allegations will be permitted to be considered during the course of a criminal trial.
Keeping such realities in mind, one accused of a crime would be well advised to confer with qualified legal defense counsel prior to embarking upon the initiation of a civil lawsuit that may prove counter to one’s self interest during the course of a pending criminal proceeding.