Law enforcement investigators have few leads after a hit and run driver struck a pedestrian walking on East Ocmulgee Blvd. in Bibb County.
The wreck happened in the 3200 block of Ocmulgee East Blvd., near the Brooks Recreation Center. The 19-year-old victim was declared dead at the scene. Officers noted that there’s no sidewalk on this stretch of East Ocmulgee.
No other details were available.
Criminal vs. Civil Court
Before we address the legal issues presented in this story, we should first address the different burdens of proof in criminal and civil court, as well as the different purposes of these two forums.
The burden of proof in criminal court is beyond a reasonable doubt, a rather vague phase many courts define as “a doubt based on reason and common sense.” That’s like saying a pink dress is a dress that is pink. So, in most cases, jurors decide for themselves what this burden of proof means.
The high burden of proof makes it very hard for prosecutors to win cases with only circumstantial evidence. The highly publicized 2011 Casey Anthony case is a good example.
Police officers found the body of her 2-year-old daughter in a nearby vacant lot. Anthony, who was less than forthcoming with detectives during the ensuing investigation, didn’t show much regret. In fact, a video surveillance camera caught her on a date with a man while her daughter was missing. Anthony said nothing about the situation, according to the man’s statement.
Despite the lack of evidence, Orange County prosecutors were under tremendous pressure to close the case, mostly for tourism reasons. Orlando’s many theme parks aren’t a safe place to bring the kids if an unsolved child murder happened down the street. So, they proceeded to trial with circumstantial evidence. They might have won, if everything went perfectly. But everything usually doesn’t go perfectly, and this case was no exception.
In contrast, the burden of proof in civil court is a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. That standard is much lower and much more objective.
Picture two full cans of soda sitting on a table. Someone takes a tiny sip out of the can on the left. As a result, the can on the right contains more soda, even though it’s only a bit more. That’s a picture of a preponderance of the evidence. A little proof, circumstantial or direct, goes a long way.
Furthermore, the purposes of these two forums are different. Criminal courts punish offenders and civil courts compensate victims.
Defending Hit and Run Claims in Criminal Court
Because of the high burden of proof in criminal court, lack of evidence is usually a Marietta criminal defense lawyer’s most effective defense.
Unless a credible witness places the defendant behind the wheel at or near the time of the crash, the state’s case usually won’t hold up in court. As mentioned, circumstantial evidence normally isn’t sufficient, especially on a key element like the defendant’s identity.
A credible witness accurately saw the events, remembers these events well, has no apparent bias, and has no legal disabilities.
Memory and disability issues are the most common credibility problems. Typically, a hit and run trial occurs more than a year after the crash. By that time, most witnesses have no independent recollection of the events. They only repeat what someone else told them or what they read in a report. A prior CIMT (crime involving moral turpitude) conviction is the most common legal disability. These individuals are generally unreliable as a matter of law.
In Cobb County, procedural defenses might be available as well, such as an illegally obtained confession or a badly staged lineup.
Investigators must inform defendants of their Fifth Amendment rights, including the right to remain silent, before they ask any questions. If officers don’t take this step, as far as judges are concerned, the confession was coerced.
The Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is very broad. It includes the right to behavioral silence. Defendants don’t have to pose for photographs or appear in lineups unless they expressly agree to do so.
Lineups could have other issues as well, such as cross-racial bias. If ten nonwhite women, who are all basically the same age, weight, and height, appear before a white person, all ten will look alike. The same thing is true in reverse.
Resolving Criminal Court Claims
Plea bargains resolve most criminal cases. Usually, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer leverages one of the above defenses during negotiations, prosecutors agree to reduce the charges, or at least reduce the punishment.
The plea bargain often includes a plea to reckless driving. This lesser included offense doesn’t have the same collateral consequences as hit and run. Prosecutors also often agree to reduce felony hit and run to misdemeanor hit and run, if the evidence is weak.
Georgia law doesn’t cap probationary periods. So, probation is usually two or three times longer in Georgia than it is in Florida or other neighboring states. Judges often impose restrictive conditions as well. The length and difficulty probation makes motions to revoke probation common.
Attorneys often reduce the length of probation or obtain relaxed conditions. Unsupervised probation is available as well, in some cases.
Judges can impose long and difficult probationary sentences. But they also have almost total discretion to modify, or even terminate, probation, if the defendant meets minimum qualifications. Additional post-conviction relief, like record expungement or sealing, might be available as well.
Hit and run cases often don’t hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start working for you.