Civil to Criminal Court – A Surprising Case

Almost everyone remembers the O.J. Simpson murder trial of 1994 – the drama, the televised court proceedings, and the not guilty verdict. What you may not realize, though, is that after Simpson’s high-profile criminal defense got him acquitted, he had to pay damages for wrongful death, a decision that was reached in civil court.

In fact, sources say that criminal trials in which the suspect is acquitted are then tried in civil court fairly often. Because the penalties available in a civil court are smaller than those available in criminal court, the burden of proof for prosecutors is also smaller. So defendants found not guilty in criminal trials still have a chance of being found liable in civil trials.

The Dallas Morning News reports on a man whose situation is exactly the opposite of this norm. Paul Alexis, a 24-year-old Louisiana resident, was cleared of all responsibility regarding the injuries to his infant son in civil court-and will now face a criminal trial for the same incident.

According to reports, Alexis was walking with his then-four-month-old son in his arms, tripped, and fell. The son’s head allegedly hit a dresser, resulting in a fractured skull. When Alexis and his wife brought the child in for treatment, he and his sister were removed from the Alexis’ care and put into foster care until the civil case could determine liability, sources say.

When the judge in Alexis’ civil case ruled that Alexis and his wife should regain custody of their two children, he basically cleared Alexis of all charges, according to reports. Which is why what happened next was so confusing.

The News recounts how the Texas Department of Family and Social Services believed that the injury on the baby’s head was inconsistent with a simple fall.

Officials from the state apparently think they have enough evidence to prove that Alexis is guilty of charges relating to the injury of his child, even though a civil court, in which the burden of proof is lighter, was unable to find him liable.

If convicted, reports the News, Alexis could face as much as life in prison. Pretty stiff for someone who was considered fit to have full custody of children by a judge. But, because the two different cases are handled by to separate, unrelated courts, the ruling of the first judge is completely irrelevant in Alexis’ criminal trial.

It is extremely unusual for a case to move from civil court to criminal court. That Alexis was not found responsible for his son’s injury in the civil trial compounds this abnormality. Because the burden of proof is so much less in civil court than in criminal court, prosecutors rarely deem it wise to move from the former to the latter in the hopes of getting a conviction.

The News indicates that this hardship is not the first for the Alexis family: they were relocated by both Hurricane and Katrina and Hurricane Rita. They are reportedly now living in their Louisiana home.