There are many good people out there who have had some kind of blemish in their past. For example, you may have a DUI conviction from several years ago or some other kind of criminal conviction that happened because of a mistake or lapse in judgment. Or maybe you were arrested and charged with a crime, but the case was resolved without a conviction.
If you have a criminal history and you become injured because of someone else’s negligence or reckless actions, your criminal record does not disqualify you from recovering the compensation you deserve for your injuries. In fact, in a perfect world, a past criminal charge and/or conviction that is not directly related to your personal injury claim should not have any effect on your claim at all. But unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you are trying to recover monetary damages from the responsible party and/or their insurer. This, of course, is an adversarial action, and the other side will use whatever information they can to try to undermine your claim. So, even if your criminal history has nothing to do with the fact that somebody injured you, the other side is still likely to bring it up if they believe it will be damaging to your case.
How will my Criminal History be Used Against Me?
The good news is that your criminal background may not come up at all in your civil claim. If you are working with an experienced personal injury lawyer, he/she will certainly do everything possible to help ensure that this is the case. In addition, the other side is only supposed to reference your criminal history if it is relevant to the case at hand.
So, using one of the examples mentioned earlier, if you had a DUI conviction on your record from 10 years ago and another driver ran a red light, crashed into your car and left you with moderate to severe injuries, the fact that you were once convicted for DUI should have no bearing on your case. And since most auto accident injury claims are settled out of court without a trial, your prior DUI conviction may never be a factor during negotiations.
When a personal injury case goes to trial, however, it might be a different story. If you take the witness stand during a trial, the other side may bring up your criminal history by claiming that it is relevant because it speaks to your credibility and trustworthiness as a witness.
People tend to view someone with a criminal record more negatively, and a jury may be inclined to award a significantly lower amount in damages as a result. This is especially true if you had a conviction for something that involves fraud or dishonesty, such as writing a bad check. In a case like this, the defense lawyer for the other side may be able to gain an advantage by making an emotional argument to the jury based on a mistake you made in the past.
What to do About your Criminal History in a PI Case
If you have a criminal record and you are involved in a civil claim, the best way to deal with this is to retain strong legal counsel and be honest and upfront about your background with your attorney. There are a number of ways your attorney may suggest that you deal with this, depending on the situation:
- Thoroughly Review your Criminal History: The first thing you will want to do is make sure there are no surprises that the other side brings up later on. For example, if their lawyer asks you if you speed and you answer “no”, you could end up being caught in a lie if you forgot about the speeding ticket you received a few years ago. Go through your entire background and make sure you are ready for whatever the other side might bring up.
- Discuss your Criminal Record during your Testimony: One possible way to preempt questions about your background from the other side is to be proactive and tell the court about it upfront. This way, you will have the first opportunity to present this information to the jury and put it in proper context before the other side brings it up. Your lawyer will work closely with you to help determine whether or not this is a viable strategy.
- Waive your Right to a Jury Trial: If you have a more serious criminal record, your lawyer might suggest that it is in your best interest to waive a jury trial and have your case decided by a judge. Judges tend to be more logical and dispassionate about legal cases, and they are less likely to be swayed by emotional arguments.
- Have your Criminal Record Expunged (if possible): You might be able to have your criminal records expunged before you go to trial, depending on what the crime was and how the case was resolved. For example, in South Carolina, any criminal charge that was dismissed or where the defendant was found not guilty can be expunged. Certain convictions are also eligible for expungement; these are generally first-offense convictions for more minor crimes such as simple possession of marijuana or failure to stop for a law enforcement vehicle after being signaled to do so.
Work with a Skilled and Knowledgeable South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or someone close to suffered injury and it was someone else’s fault, you should not give up on your right to recover compensation just because you have a criminal history. Your first step should be to work with an attorney who has extensive experience not only with personal injury law, but ideally someone with criminal law experience as well. An in-depth understanding of how these two areas of law converge is very helpful in cases like these.
At the Nowell Law Firm, two of our major areas of focus are personal injury and criminal law. We work closely with our clients, putting our experience to work and exploring every potential legal avenue toward obtaining the most favorable result possible. Message us online or call our Spartanburg, SC office today at (864) 469-2481 to schedule a complementary consultation with a member of our legal team. We look forward to serving you!