(Not sure if the title is good)

Hypothetical case: Alice files a lawsuit against Bob, alleging some grievance. During the case it's established that Alice violated the law first, causing Bob to take revenge (and also violating the law in the process). Logically the court would punish both of them, but Alice persists in litigating because she believes the law will be harsher on Bob than on her. However, during the case, Bob dies. Now the court cannot penalize Bob, so Alice is no longer interested and wants to withdraw the case.

Is the court still obliged to rule against Alice, or do they dismiss the case? In other words, is the court obliged to issue penalties even though one party is dead and the other is no longer interested?

If the country matters, assume the USA.

  • 1
    Alice violated the law first - so she doesn't come with "clean hands". Wouldn't she run the risk of having her case dismissed, possibly with prejudice? – Rock Ape Jan 24 at 0:41
  • Just to be clear, Bob has countersued Alice, right? Otherwise it's actually not necessarily true that the court would "punish" Alice. By the way, it doesn't matter here because I think we all get what you mean, but theoretically civil damages aren't usually "punitive" (although you could make a reasonable argument that that's just legal mumbo jumbo). – user36183 Jan 24 at 0:58
  • Please clarify what you mean in the question by "punish Alice". Are you talking about damages going to Bob, or a fine, or jail, or what? – David Siegel Jan 24 at 2:12
  • @RockApe I imagine so, yes. – Allure Jan 24 at 2:48
  • @ColinLosey assume Bob didn't countersue Alice. (That's another dimension to the title question: if Bob doesn't countersue, will the court never punish Alice even if they're aware Alice violated the law?) – Allure Jan 24 at 2:49

Alice files a lawsuit against Bob

This is a civil suit, it will not lead to any court punishing Alice, or anyone else. If facts come out showing that Alice violated the law, the local prosecutor could, but need not, file a criminal case against Alice. If the prosecutor does not file such a case, Alice's worst possible outcome is to get no damages, with costs and fees awarded to Bob (or his estate).

If Bob dies and Alice wishes to drop the case, there is no obvious reason not to permit it, unless Bob or his estate has counter-sued. Bob (or his estate) might ask for costs and legal fees, and perhaps sanctions for a frivolous suit. The court might well asses whether to grand such a costs order before or as it dismisses the case. ;

The question seems to confuse the idea of a civil lawsuit and that of a criminal prosecution. In an Civil lawsuit, one person (or company) (the plaintiff) claims that another (or several others) (the defendant) have violated an agreement, or have in some other way caused legal injury. For example, if Alice claims that she had a contract with Bob and Bob violated the terms that would be a civil suit. Or if Alice claims that Bob infringed her copyright, or slandered her, or falsely advertised something or any of many other possible situations. The case would be Alice C vs Bob D.

However, if Alice accuses Bob of having stolen from her, or punched her, or raped her, that woulds be a criminal accusation. The police would investigate, and if they found evidence to support the accusation, the local prosecutor could (but need not) file a case, which would be something like State of Franklin vs Bob D IN THE CRIMINAL COURT. Alice would be a witness, but not the plaintiff. If the investigation found that Alice committed a crime also, the prosecutor might file, State of Franklin vs Alice C Or the prosecutor might file both cases, or neither. The prosecutor has wide discretion whether or not to prosecute in any particular case, even when the evidence is clear. Neither Alice nor Bob could insist that either criminal case be dropped. Only the prosecutor, or the Judge, could do that.

A criminal court is a different court from a civil court, and in many places a given judge hears only one or the other type of case. In many other places a judge may hear both kinds, but any one case is still either civil or criminal.

  • I assume “could but need not file criminal charges” depends mostly on what exactly Alice did? – gnasher729 Jan 25 at 11:39
  • @gnasher729 It is a judgement call by the prosecutor, based on whatever considerations s/he chooses to take into account. Seriousness of offense, quality of evidence, likelihood of conviction often play a part. Public relations and politics sometimes play a part. There is no rule. – David Siegel Jan 25 at 15:32

They can still maintain the case against Alice. Here is a revision of the hypothetical with come details. Alice files a lawsuit against Bob, for breach of contract (he was a house contractor, and walked off the job). Alice punched Bob, then Bob punched her back (not in self defense, just hatred). The court can punish both of them for assault (assuming the prosecutor cares to pursue the matter). Punishments are what you get for committing a crime, compensation for damage is not a punishment. Alice persists in her lawsuit believing that the lawsuit plus the prosecution will be harder on Bob. Bob dies, the courts cannot punish him. We don't know if Alice mistakenly thinks the civil case will be dismissed (the estate would still be liable), so she petitions to dismiss her suit.

If the prosecution continues (as it surely would) and the evidence is persuasive (apparently this is a bench trial), the court would be obligated to convict her for assault. Since she already moved to dismiss her suit, the court would almost certainly dismiss the suit in response to her motion, and not drag the matter out and then find against Alice.

Of course, there are hundreds of other outcomes possible, depending on the specifics of the hypothetical. The devil is in the details.

  • That's a different hypothetical: in the OP, Bob didn't countersue. – user6726 Jan 24 at 1:07
  • You lost me somewhere around the middle of the answer I'm afraid. By "civil case" do you mean the breach of contract case? By "prosecution" do you mean Alice's lawyers who are the prosecution, or the case itself? By "the court would almost certainly dismiss the suit" do you mean the court will dismiss both the breach of contract charge against Bob & the assault charge against both Alice and Bob? – Allure Jan 24 at 2:59

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