The average adult in New Mexico doesn’t fully understand the criminal justice system, let alone the awkward point where criminal justice and civil justice intersect. Confusion, urban legends and half-truths abound when people discuss their rights as the victim of a crime or as a surviving family member of someone who died tragically.
When grieving families hear incorrect information, they may fail to assert their rights as permitted under New Mexico state law. Can surviving family members still bring a civil lawsuit after the state convicts someone of a crime?
What impact do criminal charges have on a wrongful death claim?
Given that the government is not the plaintiff for a wrongful death lawsuit, a criminal conviction will not prevent family members from pursuing civil justice. In fact, a conviction in criminal court could bolster their civil claim. Evidence capable of securing a conviction or pushing someone to plead guilty is also likely good enough to meet the lower standard of evidence in civil cases.
How a conviction can help build a case
Sometimes, a criminal conviction will affect a defendant’s ability to challenge claims in civil court. Other times, it can conclusively tie a third party to a tragic situation, as evidenced in a case involving the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD).
Recently, a man accused of fatally beating a 4-year-old boy plead guilty to the charges against him. That man will now serve a life sentence for his role in the death of the child. The CYFD faces a wrongful death claim brought by the representatives of the boy’s estate, who claim the agency failed to protect him from the abuse through inadequate intervention just weeks before he died. The guilty plea of the man accused will strengthen the connection between the death and the alleged failure of CYFD.
Others still await their day in court for related charges, but convictions and guilty pleas will not eliminate the claim brought by the estate of the child who died. The claim against CYFD could lead to changes in their practices that save other children in the future. Learning more about the rules that govern wrongful death claims in New Mexico can help grieving family members in their pursuit of financial justice.