BY TIMOTHY E. ZERILLO
SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM
Attorney Benjamin Gideon recently wrote (Maine Voices, April 30) that civil jury trials must be given equal footing with criminal trials because both are guaranteed by the Maine Constitution. It is true that civil jury trials are crucial to ensure justice. Criminal trials must receive priority, however.
Consider the burden of proof in each type of case. A criminal case requires the heaviest burden in our system: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Conversely, a civil plaintiff can prove their case with a mere preponderance of the evidence.
These remarkably different standards illustrate our priorities. We employ the more stringent standard of proof in criminal cases because we prize our liberty. In all criminal cases, that liberty is threatened.
The pretrial standing of civil and criminal litigants are different in important ways. A civil plaintiff may want their day in court with good reason. However, a pretrial criminal defendant is likely either being held in custody pending trial, or is out on bail. Serving time in jail is an obvious restraint on liberty. Bail is another restraint.
Bail always comes with conditions. Common bail conditions restrain your freedom of travel and association, your right to possess firearms, alcohol and legalized drugs. In short, even while released on bail, you are pilloried by restrictions, which, if violated, can send you to jail.
I agree with Attorney Gideon that trials in civil cases are important. However, in the post-pandemic race to the courthouse, criminal defendants must be given a head start because they have already been shackled.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Timothy E. Zerillo is the managing attorney for Zerillo Law Firm, LLC in Portland. He is on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and is a past president of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.