When bringing a case to trial, an attorney’s main responsibility is to present all the facts and to have them substantiated. If something cannot be proven without a doubt, even if the public consensus is that the other person was guilty, the attorney will lose.
Case in point is the recent high-profile case that was decided in October in Boston. The prosecutors had attempted to convict a supervisory pharmacist, Glenn Chin, for murder after his tainted drugs led to a nationwide meningitis outbreak that killed 76 people. More than 700 people in 20 states – including Tennessee – were sickened.
Prosecutors had attempted to prove that since he was in charge of the facility, he should be held accountable and charged with second-degree murder. This was a criminal case, but the same principles apply when looking at related cases such as wrongful death cases and personal injury accidents in civil court. The burden of proof is with the prosecutor. The defendant, or the accused, merely has to show that there isn’t enough proof – though to what level this has to be proven does differ from criminal and civil cases.
O.J. Simpson – A Tale of Two Cases
A higher profile case than the one recently decided in Boston would be the infamous O.J. Simpson trial of 1994 where he was tried in criminal court for the first-degree murder of his wife. He was not convicted, mainly because the court could not prove he had acted maliciously and premeditatively intended to murder his wife without a reasonable doubt.
However, Simpson was later held accountable for his wife’s death in civil court to the tune of $33.5 million in damages to the victims’ families.
So, while a criminal court could not prove Simpson’s guilt in a murder charge, a civil court could charge him based on its findings that it was more likely than not that he caused the death of his wife and her friend.
“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 a preponderance of evidence — a much lesser burden than is required in a criminal case,” said NOLO, a legal advice blog, and lawyer directory.
Bad Management as Murder?
This was the difficulty in the case before Chin’s prosecutors. They had to prove that he had willingly caused the deaths of the people that had died from the outbreak. Ultimately, he was cleared of the murder charges.
“Jurors said prosecutors failed to prove Glenn Chin was responsible for the deaths of people who were injected with mold-contaminated drugs produced by the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Framingham, just west of Boston. As the supervisory pharmacist, Chin oversaw the so-called clean rooms where the drugs were made,” reported TIME magazine.
Prosecutors said he was accountable for the deaths because of his supervisory position, and decisions he made to cut corners for financial reasons that ultimately led to the outbreak. They called his actions a “reckless disregard” for human lives and said he “gambled with patient’s lives.”
Assistant U.S Attorney George Varghese, blamed Chin because “he knew there was a reasonable likelihood the drugs could be deadly if they were not sterile.”
“He knew he had a job to do, which was to make these drugs sterile, and he just didn’t care enough to do it,” Varghese said.
However, Chin’s attorneys argued he couldn’t be blamed for them because there was no evidence that he had directly caused the drugs to be contaminated. The jury agreed with him. He was cleared of the murder charges but was still convicted of mail fraud and racketeering.
Burden of Proof
This is why when personal injury attorneys are taking on a client, they will do so much work to find a paper trail. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove that the wrongful death or the personal injury was clearly the fault of the defendant – whether that be an insurance company, a homeowner, a business or a car driver.
It’s about presenting facts and well substantiated legal arguments. It takes a lot of work, and it’s not always cut and dry.
This is also why lawyers encourage their clients, when dealing with damages for injuries, require medical treatment to prove injuries from an accident were caused by the accident and not just a sore back that was there before the accident.
It involves more than a cause and effect presentation of facts, which can be refuted without proof. In absolutely any case – criminal or civil – it comes down to what you can prove and how you prove it.