When a Florida drunk driver causes serious injury to his or her passengers, occupants of other vehicles or non-occupants, such as pedestrians and bicyclists, it is likely that driver will be named as a defendant in both a criminal and civil case. As Florida DUI injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm can explain, these are two totally different processes in different courts pursued for different purposes. However, that does not mean one will have no impact on the other. One of the most notable is the issue of compelling defendant’s testimony in a civil lawsuit, which then becomes public record that can be used against him or her in the pending criminal case. But of course, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives those accused of criminal wrongdoing the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination. That silence and refusal to answer questions cannot be used against them for the jury to infer wrongdoing.
Courts in Florida have held that defendants in wrongful death lawsuits can invoke their Fifth Amendment right during the civil litigation process if compelling that testimony could potentially amount to self-incrimination in the pending criminal case. However, as noted in the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Baxter v. Palmgiano, the Fifth Amendment doesn’t guarantee negative inferences against a defendant in a civil lawsuit when they refuse to answer pertinent questions regarding the evidence against them. This doesn’t mean the judge or jury in the civil DUI injury lawsuit can simply point to defendant’s refusal to answer questions and declare that alone as basis for a decision in plaintiff’s favor. However, the court is entitled to draw inferences against a defendant who chooses to invoke the Fifth Amendment right to silence. In U.S. ex rel. Bilokumsky v. Tod in 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, “silence is often evidence of the most persuasive character.”