Double jeopardy does not bar subsequent lawsuit against George Zimmerman

By Richard Alderman
July 27, 2013 at 2:27 a.m.

I read that there may be another lawsuit filed against George Zimmerman. How is this possible? Whatever happened to double jeopardy?

Double jeopardy is alive and well. It just doesn't prevent all subsequent lawsuits. Double jeopardy prevents a person from being charged and tried more than once for the same or a similar crime.

There is a distinction, however, between criminal proceedings on the one hand and civil proceedings on the other, based on the different purposes served by each.

Criminal proceedings are punitive in nature and are filed by the government. They serve two primary purposes - deterrence and retribution - and result in a loss of liberty or life. For these reasons, the rules governing criminal proceedings tend to favor the accused over the prosecution.

Civil proceedings are filed by an individual against another individual and are designed to compensate injured persons for any losses incurred. Civil courts employ rules that are fairer to both parties.

For example, the standard of proof to obtain a conviction in a criminal trial is "beyond a reasonable doubt," a very high standard. A plaintiff may prevail in a civil trial, however, on a showing of "preponderance of the evidence," a standard that basically requires the jury to find their decision was more likely than not.

My opinion is that in the Zimmerman case, there may well be a civil lawsuit for wrongful death filed by the family of Trayvon Martin, notwithstanding the fact that a criminal jury found him not guilty. As was seen with the O.J. Simpson case, a civil jury may find liability where a criminal jury found not guilty.

I rent an apartment. I recently discovered the floor in my closet was wet. Later, I saw what looks like mold growing out of the carpet. It turns out the air conditioner had to be repaired. Although my landlord promptly made the repairs, he has refused to pay for getting my clothes in the closet cleaned. What are my rights as a tenant?

Under the law, the landlord has an obligation to do what he promised to do under the lease and make any necessary repairs. Unless the lease states otherwise, the landlord has an obligation to repair a leaky air conditioner.

In most cases, however, the landlord is not liable for any damage that occurred before the problem was reported to him. For a landlord to be liable for damage to your personal property, the landlord must be negligent and that negligence must have caused the damage.

If the landlord did not know about the leak and promptly had it repaired as soon it was reported, he would not be responsible for any damage to your clothing.

On the other hand, if he knew about the leak and did not take reasonable steps to repair it, he could be considered "negligent" and responsible for damage to your clothing that could have been prevented with prompt repairs.

The bottom line is that a landlord is generally not responsible for damage to a tenant's property. That is why it is so important that all tenants have renter's insurance.

I co-signed for someone who bought a car. He stopped paying, and I had to pay almost $3,000 to settle the account. Can I recover this money from the person I co-signed for?

As you seem to understand, when you co-sign you must pay in the event the person you co-signed for does not. If you do not pay, it will be treated as your debt.

This means you might face a lawsuit, and the debt will be reported as your debt to the credit bureau. If you pay, however, the law gives you the right to be reimbursed by the other party.

I suggest you send the person for whom you co-signed a certified letter asking for payment. If he does not reimburse you, file a claim in small claims court.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at



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