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Does double jeopardy mean you can’t sue a convicted drunk driver?

Those accused of criminal activity in the United States have certain constitutional protections. Among the many rights of those suspected of a crime is the protection from double jeopardy. In a criminal matter, double jeopardy involves the state bringing criminal charges against someone more than once for the same, specific offense.

In drunk driving cases, double jeopardy does not protect someone against facing a second impaired driving charge if they get behind the wheel while drunk again after their first conviction. Instead, this protection ensures that the government can’t charge someone two separate times for the same specific drunk driving incident.

If a driver who hurt you or killed one of your family members is in jail after a conviction or guilty plea, does double jeopardy protect them from a lawsuit related to the crash?

A criminal conviction does not prevent you from taking civil action 

Double jeopardy only occurs when a government entity attempts to use the same incident to impose penalties on someone more than once. Facing civil penalties in addition to criminal penalties does not violate someone’s rights.

A drunk driver could have a responsibility not just to the government for their violation of the law but also to the individuals whose lives they impacted by breaking the law. Your right to take civil action does not diminish when someone pleads guilty to a criminal offense. In fact, you may have a stronger case after a conviction.

A criminal conviction will mean there is evidence for your civil case

Just like the civil and criminal courts have different people bringing action against someone, they also have different rules and standards. In a criminal case, a prosecutor must convince a judge or a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime.

In civil court, when you try to hold someone responsible for their actions, you only need to show that a preponderance of evidence supports your claim. That lower threshold might mean that the evidence already admitted in the criminal courts is more than enough to establish proof in your civil case.

Even if it isn’t, it is likely a good starting point for building your civil case against a drunk driver whose poor decisions have affected your family.

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