Civil DUI Cases and Criminal Trials in Virginia – The Difference

Many people won't realize that there is a totally separate system for punishing the at‑fault driver in a DUI case in Virginia that is wholly separate from the personal injury claim to get money damages for you if you're hurt by that drunk driver in the same incident.  The lawyers who handle the prosecution of drunk driving cases are typically the commonwealth's attorneys for the individual city or county like in this case Virginia Beach.  Not all cities automatically put an attorney from the commonwealth's attorney's office

The lawyers who handle the prosecution of drunk driving cases are typically the commonwealth's attorneys for the individual city or county like in this case Virginia Beach.  Not all cities automatically put an attorney from the commonwealth's attorney's office on every DUI case.  However, most in Virginia do.  The reason is DUI cases involving the threat of intoxicated drivers on the roadway are considered a high enough priority that the commonwealth's attorney's offices have a real lawyer on the case rather just leaving it up to the individual police officer to prosecute those drunk driving offenses.

The key difference between civil DUI cases and criminal trials

The difference between civil DUI Cases and Criminal Trials

You the victim have very little control over the prosecution of the drunk driver in the criminal or traffic court.  The decision whether to charge and what to charge them with including the possibility of negligent homicide by vehicle is left up to the prosecutors.  Typically they make their decision based upon what the evidence is and how much they can prove was the recklessness of the drunk or drunk driver's situation.  Although there are some victim impact considerations taken into account in sentencing most of the prosecution in the traffic and criminal courts doesn't really take into account you as the person who got hurt by the drunk driver.  Perhaps you might be a witness testifying to some of the facts but in

Typically they make their decision based upon what the evidence is and how much they can prove was the recklessness of the drunk or drunk driver's situation.  Although there are some victim impact considerations taken into account in sentencing most of the prosecution in the traffic and criminal courts doesn't really take into account you as the person who got hurt by the drunk driver.  Perhaps you might be a witness testifying to some of the facts but in essence, it is the state who is in charge of that criminal case. There is a key difference between civil DUI and criminal trials in Virginia.

Key Differences Between Civil DUI and Criminal Trials in Virginia

If I'm helping you with an injury arising out of a DWI, I will help monitor the case.  Typically, I will send a court reporter to the initial hearings in court to make sure to capture any testimony including witness names and other information that occur at hearings even if you aren't there.  Additionally, I will make sure that the prosecution has any good information that might be of use in the prosecution whether from you or other sources of investigation that we've done.  It is typically in your interest if you're hurt by a drunk driver that the court system

It is typically in your interest if you're hurt by a drunk driver that the court system works as well as it can to fully prosecute the defendant, at-fault driver.  However, the prosecutor will typically not share their information with us until they had concluded their criminal/traffic trial.

What I do in the meantime as your personal injury attorney when DUIs are involved is to make sure that the prosecution knows that we have an interest in securing all of the evidence once the criminal case is done.  For example, we will send information requests to let them know we need access to the vehicles if they've been impounded.  We will send requests to make sure that all photographs and witness statements are preserved so that we get them as soon as we can after the criminal case is over.  If there is a possibility of video surveillance information from a police car or body cam we will make sure that that doesn't get discarded.  Then once the prosecution is done we will get access by subpoena to all of that data so that we have it available to pursue the civil case.

Once the criminal case is done I as your civil attorney make our claims against the insurance company for the at-fault driver.  To the extent that there is a lawsuit that needs to be filed or a jury trial that is a totally separate thing from the prior criminal prosecution.  In fact, the sentence or even a conviction in the criminal court is typically not admissible in a later civil action for personal injury damages.  The one exception to that is if the defendant pleaded guilty to the DUI then that can be used against them in the civil court.  However, it's generally helpful to convincing an insurance company to pay fairly on the case if the traffic or criminal judge thought there was enough evidence to convict.

Understanding how the systems work together is part of what I do on a regular basis in my practice as a personal injury specialist.  If you have a serious personal injury case involving a DUI the attorney that you need is one who knows about personal injury cases and civil procedure.  Although some lawyers who specialize in personal injury also do criminal law or have a criminal defense lawyer in their firm it is not really the criminal defense attorney who is in the best position to understand how to properly handle the civil case.  In

In fact, typically criminal defense lawyers are the ones who defend the drunk driver to try to get them off of the charges.  They understand that world of the criminal prosecution but that is not really what you as a victim of the DUI which results in an injury care about.  What you care about is getting full and fair compensation for you and your family for the injuries.  If you ever have a question about a drunk driving case with injuries in Virginia Beach or elsewhere please call us at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at (757) 455-0077.  We sue drunk drivers!

John Cooper

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