Guilty Pleas and Civil Auto Accident Cases

Maryland accident lawyers are often confused by the impact of a guilty plea by the at-fault driver on a personal injury car accident case in Maryland. There is confusion in part because the rules are somewhat counterintuitive. Here are the three possible scenarios and how they play out:

1. Defendant Goes to Trial and is Found Guilty: Inadmissible

This is the one that surprises everyone. You would think that if you can get past the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof in a criminal case, you would be able to get past the “more likely than not” in a civil case. But, in Maryland, and in most states, a criminal conviction is not conclusive or even admissible in a civil action based on the same facts. But any admissions or testimony from the defendant in the criminal trial is fair game in a subsequent criminal trial. It is worth nothing that it costs only $15 to get a Maryland District Court transcript.

2. Defendant Pays Ticket Before Trial

The failure of the at-fault driver to contest the ticket is not an admission of guilt. The rationale is that the driver may pay a traffic ticket as a matter of convenience, particularly if the driver lives in a different jurisdiction. With traffic violations, expediency and convenience are often the driving factors, rather than an admission of wrongdoing.

3. Defendant Pleads Guilty

This is where the line finally gets crossed. If the Defendant does not pay a fine or check a guilty box on a ticket, and actually says the words “I plead guilty” (or something to that effect) and that plea was memorialized by the court this is evidence that can be used against a defendant at trial as an admission. What is the difference? A majority of courts, including Maryland, have found that an express acknowledgment of guilt to the charged offense in open court is more probative than a questionable acknowledgment of culpability that might be inferred from paying a fine instead of going to court. This actually happens all of the time. Defendants go to trial to try to reduce their points and plead guilty and this is used against them in the civil trial.

Your Accident Case

Our Maryland accident attorneys handle auto accidents and truck accidents in the Baltimore-Washington area. We handle only serious injury cases. If you are a lawyer and are considering involving co-counsel in your case, call Ron Miller or Laura Zois at 800-553-8082 or get a consultation online.

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