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If the family of the victim files a wrongful death lawsuit against a person, which to my understanding they can do even with zero evidence, and that same person is the suspect in the murder of that victim but there is not enough evidence for criminal charges, what happens when during the wrongful death trial evidence is presented that would allow to charge that person with murder?

Does the trial continue with no changes other than murder charge added? Or does the state take over as prosecution and the trial starts from the beginning? Or maybe in addition to the civil case, another trial starts in parallel in criminal court?

I tried searching on the Internet for an answer and I found that wrongful death charge can be changed to a murder charge but also that one person cannot be found guilty of both murder and wrongful death, so I'm interested in knowing whether that is true and how the details of a case like this work.

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Does the trial continue with no changes other than murder charge added?

No. The wrongful death trial is a civil trial brought by some party other than the state, whereas a murder trial is a criminal trial brought by the state. Civil and criminal trials are very different. Not only are the two types of trial initiated by different parties, but they are also governed by different rules of procedure and in some jurisdictions if not most they are heard in different divisions of the court system.

Or does the state take over as prosecution and the trial starts from the beginning? Or maybe in addition to the civil case, another trial starts in parallel in criminal court?

The state would begin a new trial. The existence of this trial could have an impact on the civil trial, which might or might not be paused during the criminal trial.

I tried searching on the Internet for an answer and I found that wrongful death charge can be changed to a murder charge but also that one person cannot be found guilty of both murder and wrongful death,

Neither of these is correct. As outlined above, a civil trial can't be converted into a criminal trial. Furthermore, while someone cannot be convicted twice for the same crime, being found guilty of a crime does not preclude subsequent civil trials (just as a prior civil judgement does not preclude prosecution).

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The supposed murder can be taken to a criminal court and to a civil court. In a criminal court the evidence for a conviction must be "beyond a reasonable doubt", which is harder to achieve than a conviction in a civil court, so like OJ Simpson, you could be found "not guilty" in a criminal court, and be ordered to pay damages in a civil court.

Now what happens if during the civil court case evidence is found that would remove some reasonable doubt of a criminal court? If the accused has been in criminal court and found "not guilty", then it's too late (in most countries), you can go to criminal court for the same crime only once, so after a "not guilty" verdict you are safe.

If a criminal case is still running, then the prosecutor will happily use any new evidence that is found during the trial. And it could be that the case never went to criminal court, even if a prosecutor believed that the person committed the crime, but saw no reasonable chance to a conviction. The prosecutor will likely take note of what happened in the civil case, and if new evidence was found there, that might convince the prosecutor to start a criminal case.

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  • Can you expand on the part where it's too late if someone already was found not guilty in criminal court? Isn't there a possibility to appeal a verdict in light of new evidence? Or is this possible only for guilty verdict (I've heard of people being released from life in prison after decades because of new evidence, eg. DNA tests). Oct 16, 2023 at 10:49
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    In the USA for example, if you were found "not guilty" that's it. You cannot be punished except in rare circumstances, like if you bribed the first judge. It's called "double jeopardy" in the USA: You cannot be put at risk of losing your freedom twice for the same crime (when you bribed the judge, you were not at risk because of the bribe, so you can be prosecuted again).
    – gnasher729
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:25

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