Editorial: Why do civil suits mean cops can’t be charged? | TribLIVE.com

Editorial: Why do civil suits mean cops can’t be charged?


A civil suit is not the same thing as a criminal case, and the two should never be confused or conflated.

O.J. Simpson, for example, is not a convicted murderer because, regardless of the decision in a civil case that he was responsible for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, a jury in the criminal case didn’t find enough evidence to establish guilt.

There is a reason the two are separate. Civil juries don’t have the same standards as those hearing a criminal case. With a crime, the starting place is supposed to be that the accused is innocent and the burden is on the prosecution to prove otherwise. In a civil trial, the person bringing the suit has the duty to prove it. In criminal court, it is beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, it is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” The difference might seem slight, but there is a world of freedom between the two.

On Friday, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office announced that no charges would be sought against the undercover police officers involved in a brawl with the Pagans motorcycle club at a South Side bar in October.

The DA’s office makes decisions like that every day. A case might not have enough evidence. It might not be in the public’s best interest. The accused may cooperate in another case. There are lots of reasons that a prosecutor might opt not to press charges.

But the reason the DA’s spokesman gave was that the federal government declined to pursue charges and the other parties were filing civilly.

Neither are reasons not to have a state case pressed. Federal and state jurisdiction differ. The FBI’s involvement was to see if there had been civil rights violations. A determination that no civil rights issues were raised does not necessarily mean no crime occurred. The fact that three of the club members have filed civil cases does not mean there were no laws broken.

Maybe there is no basis for a criminal case. That’s very possible. The DA withdrew charges against the Pagans within weeks.

But to place the reason for that decision on what is happening in other courts is a weak argument.

Categories: Opinion | Editorials
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