How Evidence Collected by The DA for Criminal Prosecution Can Help Your Dram Shop Claim
The evidence collected by a district attorney in an ongoing criminal DUI/DWI case can be extremely helpful to a civil dram shop (drunken driver accident) lawsuit. Since the district attorney is most likely pursuing a separate, criminal investigation, your lawyer must be prepared to not only work with the DA, but also to exchange vital pieces of information that would strengthen both cases.
In this article we will discuss several types of evidence that will be collected by the district attorney following a drunk driving accident. Additionally, we will discuss how all of this can help you, and give you some ideas as to why this evidence may help you win compensation against the defendant.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- Why does my attorney want to share evidence with the district attorney?
- Why is it necessary to share the evidence for my dram shop case?
- How will the evidence in my drunk driving case be used?
The civil and criminal processes are different.
A criminal trial is a valuable source of admissible evidence for your claim. That means that if the criminal case is ultimately tried, then the testimony obtained through to prosecute that case can be utilized in your claim.
- For example, if the drunken patron of a bar goes out and injures or kills someone, then this would lead to two separate trials for the drunk driver: criminal and civil. In a Texas criminal trial, the DA would seek an indictment for intoxicated manslaughter, whereas in the civil suit, you would be pursuing monetary compensation through a dram shop cause of action. However, it's important to note that you mustn't wait for the criminal case to be tried before starting your personal injury or wrongful death claim.
The evidence collected in both has the potential of being interchangeable, and a good relationship with the district attorney can pay off in spades. Our attorneys often collect valuable information through our investigations that the district attorney could use in the criminal proceedings, and only a cooperative relationship with the district attorney can achieve that.
Even if a criminal case is not tried, but is instead pleaded out, the guilty plea can still be admissible in your civil case. The guilty plea that the district attorney obtains can place a substantial amount of pressure on the defense attorney in your dram shop case. However, many district attorneys are not willing to share evidence, so having an attorney on your side who has good relations with fellow lawyers - including the DA - can be extremely valuable.
How information is actually shared between the district attorney and us.
Under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), just about everything the state has can be turned over to us with a proper request. That's a prime tool we use in every case. This includes the DA's file (with attorney notes redacted), the police officer's information and notes, pictures collected at the scene, and witness testimony. Further, we file an open records request with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to get any investigative information they've got with respect to any bar associated with the accident.
The problem with these sources of information? We have to wait until the criminal case is over before they're technically supposed to hand the information over. But here's a secret: a good relationship with the DAs can get us that information earlier. There's nothing against the rules about them telling us that an officer said the drunk driver admitted he'd been drinking at a particular bar. In fact, we've found many of the DAs quite helpful and willing to pass that information along.
The same holds true for the TABC---many of their employees will let us know the results of their investigations before the criminal trial is officially over. FOIA is a blunt instrument and takes time to fulfill its promise. That's why a little honey catches more flies than vinegar sometimes.
One of the ways we help the criminal process is to provide information we've gathered. This is not only the right thing to do, but it helps us build relationships with law enforcement and the DAs. For example, if we learn of a witness at the scene, we tell them. Or, if we find out that the driver took a drug test after the crash because his employer required him to, we pass that information along.
Don't Wait On the Criminal Case Before Suing the Bar
One last important thing to note, even though your civil case can benefit from the outcome of the criminal case being brought against the drunk driver, that does not mean that you should wait for the criminal case to be completed before you file your civil suit. We don't know how this "wait and see" approach became so popular, but at least once a month we can a call from a potential client who had a civil attorney representing them in a dram shop lawsuit who advised them to wait until the drunk driver was prosecuted before suing the bar.
Frankly, there are only two reasons that an attorney would suggest this. The first is that the drunken driver is refusing to cooperate (pleading the 5th) and provide information that would inform the court as to where they were drinking. Once the criminal case is over, they can no longer hide behind their 5th Amendment protection, and a civil attorney can force them to reveal where they were drinking. This is rare. Normally, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest where a drunk driver had been drinking. But in rare cases, a lawyer has no choice but to wait for the criminal case to play out before learning which bar the drunk driver was drinking at.
The only other reason that a lawyer would wait is laziness. They want the district attorney to basically build their case for them by proxy. Even though as you've seen in this article we advocate sharing evidence between your civil lawyer and the DA, never would be suggest that a case be put on ice for convenience sake. Any lawyer who would suggest such a tactic is doing his or her client a grave disservice. Despite the fact that some evidence gathered by the DA will help the civil claim and vice versa, neither case should depend upon the other. The two cases are judged by different legal standards.
Give Grossman Law Offices a Call:
The experienced Texas dram shop attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have over 25 years of experience with drunk driving cases. We're confident we can put you in the best possible position to win your case. If you have questions about your possible claim, give us a call whenever it is most convenient for you. You can reach us at (855) 326-0000.
Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful: