Social Justice Through Civil Litigation

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While justice is often not provided by criminal courts, victims can seek compensation in civil court with the assistance of personal injury attorneys such as Bangel, Bangel, & Bangel. When large financial settlements are awarded in personal injury cases, government officials are given incentive to correct failures in community policing and other social ills that affect the local population.

Example of social justice through civil litigation include the following:

Wrongful death litigation in criminal court

A wrongful death civil suit can be pursued if a private citizen is killed by a law enforcement officer. The death can be the result of malice, which indicates intent, or of bad decisions, which may involve improper training in dealing with residents of impoverished neighborhoods.

Criminal trials are more difficult to prosecute in wrongful death cases involving law enforcement officers. There is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and a conviction may mean prison time for the offending officer.

If the wrongful death was not observed by witnesses, the officer's account of the event is the only one presented. If witnesses were present, and they reside in the same impoverished area as the victim, the testimony of the officer is often given more credibility.

Wrongful death cases in civil court

Civil cases are different in that they rely only on a preponderance of evidence, not the assumption of innocence. A wrongful death attorney must only prove that the officer had other choices available, but decided to use lethal force.

This decision could have been made from malicious intent, by the actions of the victim, or simply by poor training. The motivation only affects the outcome by providing alternate paths that the officer could have followed that wouldn't have resulted in the victim's death. 

Civil trials can only provide financial compensation for the victims' families. There are no criminal penalties, and in the case of a law enforcement officer, the financial settlements are paid by the local jurisdiction for whom the officer serves.

It is these settlements, that may result in payments of millions of dollars, that provide incentive for local officials to question community policing policies and practices in disenfranchised areas.This may result in specialized training in interacting with diverse populations.

It may also result in practices such as limiting high speed chases of suspects through crowded urban areas. These chases often involve non-violent offenders and result in deaths of innocent residents from collisions with speeding police cars or fleeing offenders.

Money can be a powerful motivation for change when the criminal justice system fails its most vulnerable citizens.