What's the difference between a civil judgment and a criminal conviction?

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Question:

O.J. Simpson was NOT guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman as judged by criminal court jury. Yet a civil court jury held him legally responsible for their deaths. So, how is the civil court's determination different from the criminal? And is O.J. still NOT guilty of murder?

Answer:

You are not alone in being confused about how a person acquitted of murder in a criminal trial can be held liable for a victim's wrongful death in a civil trial.

The first step to understanding this seeming contradiction is to know that a criminal prosecution involves different laws, a different court system, and different burdens of proof. Specifically, the definition of first degree murder in the context of the O.J. case requires that the act be done with malice aforethought and premeditation. And to convict in the criminal court, the case against the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a civil case for wrongful death, on the other hand, the plaintiffs had to prove only that the defendant’s intentional and unlawful conduct resulted in the victims’ deaths.. The burden of proof in the civil case was preponderance of the evidence -- a much lesser burden than is required in a criminal case.

So, while a criminal jury might reasonably fail to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and acquit an accused, a civil jury might also reasonably find by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant’s unlawful conduct results in civil liability.

Is the former football hero Orenthal James Simpson a murderer? A civil jury found it more likely than not that he caused the death of his ex-wife and her friend. A criminal jury was unable to find beyond a reasonable doubt that O.J. committed first degree murder. Legally, the outcomes do not contradict each other.

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