Brazilian race car driver, Joao Paulo Escudero, killed a pedestrian on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach earlier last year. Back then, the evidence suggested that Escudero was driving while intoxicated when his Mercedes jumped a curb, killing Russell Knudson. Evidence at the time suggested he was travelling at an excessive speed. Upon arrival, police recalled seeing a white powdery substance on Escudero’s nose and finding a bag of cocaine. The story, however, has recently changed.
Now, the evidence tells a different story. A traffic expert determined that Escudero was only going 38 miles per hour in a 30 mile-per-hour zone when he hit Knudson. Also, the toxicology report came back indicating that Escudero’s blood alcohol content was below the legal limit. As for the cocaine? The white powdery substance on his nose came from the airbag, as it exploded upon impact. And the baggie was not found in his car, but on a crowded sidewalk near the scene.
In response to the developing evidence, prosecutors dropped the charges against Escudero. In return, Escudero agreed to several terms: his license is suspended for 10 years; he will be required to give a mandatory donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving; and he was required to view the photos of the crime scene and victim.
Although the criminal charges were dropped, Escudero had already settled with Knudson’s family for an undisclosed amount in a civil action. The fact that the criminal charges are now not being pursued will not change the result in the civil case. This is because the criminal and civil court systems are two entirely different animals.
Criminal cases are brought by a government, whether it is a state, federal, or even city government (think traffic tickets). Criminal cases can expose the defendant to both fines and jail time, if the offense is a serious one. It can be confusing because victim’s families often work with the prosecutors, but the family can never press criminal charges; that is always going to be up to the State.
Civil cases, on the other hand, are brought by a citizen (or company) against another citizen (or company). Jail time is never on the table. The most common relief sought in a civil case is money. So, the family of someone who is killed only has one option if they want to seek justice; file a civil lawsuit against the person or people responsible for their loved one’s death.
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