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Tom made an interesting observation:

It is very common to have a civil lawsuit brought that implicates criminal laws, but not have the criminal violations be charged. For example, if you steal a purse you go to jail, but if you steal a building you are rarely charged with a criminal offense. It is rarely to a civil litigant's advantage to bring up criminal matters and there are ethical rules limiting the interaction between the two.

What are the ethical rules that limit interaction between civil and criminal proceedings on the same facts?

This does seem like a fundamental problem: To my knowledge there is little consideration in criminal code for victim compensation. I don't know what case law conventions exist for this. Every U.S. state has a "Crime Victim Compensation Board" which attempts to reimburse victims of violent crimes, but that is a bureaucratic process and it appears designed only to cover direct costs resulting from such crimes.

Therefore: If a criminal has significant assets, and the civil law provides for significant punitive damages, then a victim stands to gain far more from a civil judgement or settlement (correct me if I'm wrong) – to such an extent that a victim of a wealthy defendant would likely refuse to cooperate in any criminal prosecution that could jeopardize his financial gains from a civil action. And without the cooperation of the victim, even if the state wanted to pursue criminal charges, presumably it would decline to because of the difficulty of succeeding.

This situation runs somewhat counter to the interest of the criminal justice system, which is to punish the offender, not reward the victim. It also allows wealthy criminals to "buy their way out of jail," which is something the criminal justice system does not like.

So is this conflict and result just an "unfair" fact of all common-law justice? Or are there mechanisms that exist to satisfy the demands of justice despite this conflict?

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    For clarity - this question seems to presuppose that suing somebody who's in jail isn't possible. Is that true? Can you not press criminal charges and also civil charges? How would a criminal conviction and (long) sentence hurt the chances of getting and recovering civil damages? Honest question. Is it a purely practical consideration on the feasibility of getting a trial or collecting damages when the defendant is in jail? – Patrick87 Apr 29 '16 at 20:24
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    @Patrick87 - You can certainly sue someone who is in jail, and I suppose their incarceration doesn't make collecting a judgement against their existing assets any harder. I was thinking more along the lines of, "They'll put up less of a fight, and maybe even settle, if they know that only their money, and not their freedom is on the line." But putting it that way suggests that these are people who will settle instead of litigating to the end, and also that something like "I won't cooperate in a criminal case on this" would be permissible as part of a settlement. Hopefully Tom can clarify. – feetwet Apr 29 '16 at 21:22
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What are the ethical rules that limit interaction between civil and criminal proceedings on the same facts?

A private lawyer's job is to look out for the client's interests before the public interest in these cases. In many states, a private lawyer is not permitted to threaten to seek a criminal prosecution to gain an advantage in a civil action. A private lawyer, myself included, will often deliberately not pursue criminal charges in order to not impair the ability of a client to collect a judgment.

A prosecutor has wide discretion to prosecute or not when the prosecutor is aware of a crime that there is probable cause to believe was committed. A complaint by the victim is not required in the U.S., but most prosecutors consider a victim's wishes. A prosecutor may ethically make prosecution dependent upon making a victim whole.

So is this conflict and result just an "unfair" fact of all common-law justice?

What is "fair" is beyond the scope of Law.SE which deals in "what is", not in what is "fair".

Or are there mechanisms that exist to satisfy the demands of justice despite this conflict?

Not really. Just the good judgment of the individual actors in the system given their respective duties and roles.

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