Court Upholds Defendant’s Fifth Amendment Privilege Not to Testify in Recent Personal Injury Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an interesting issue that all Indiana personal injury victims would be wise to consider before filing a case against a defendant. The case addressed when a personal injury defendant may be able to evoke their privilege against self-incrimination when asked to testify in a personal injury lawsuit.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of two pedestrians who were killed in an accident caused by the defendant. Because the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the crash, he was arrested and charged with several serious charges, including two counts of murder.

Evidently, the defendant ultimately pled guilty to the murder charges and was sentenced to a total term of 32 years in jail. The defendant filed an appeal of his sentence, claiming that it was excessive. The plaintiffs filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit around this same time, and submitted a discovery request to the court, seeking the defendant be deposed.

Apparently, the defendant refused to answer some of the questions in the deposition, claiming that because his appeal was still pending, he retained his privilege against self-incrimination. The defendant explained that if his appeal was successful, he would be entitled to a new sentencing hearing, and any testimony he gave during a deposition could be used against him in the re-sentencing. The trial court required the defendant to complete the deposition, noting that the defendant was only appealing his sentence, and not the court’s finding of guilt. The defendant appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Opinion

On appeal, the court agreed with the defendant and held that the defendant retains his privilege against self-incrimination until his appeal is final. The court began by noting that the privilege against self-incrimination “applied in any proceeding,” including civil cases, but only when confronted with a “real and substantial hazard” that the speaker could incriminate himself.

Here, the court held that the defendant faced a real and substantial hazard of self-incrimination if he were forced to participate in the deposition. The court explained that a defendant who is appealing a finding of guilt could not be compelled to testify in a civil matter until the criminal appeal has been resolved. While this case involved only the appeal of a sentence, the court determined that the same concerns were present. Namely, that if the defendant were forced to testify in the plaintiffs’ wrongful death case, whatever he said could be used by the judge presiding over his re-sentencing to sentence the defendant to a longer term of imprisonment than he may otherwise have received.

Have You Been Injured in an Indiana DUI Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Indiana drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. However, as the case discussed above illustrates, many considerations must be taken into account before filing your case. At the dedicated Indiana personal injury law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse, we have extensive experience representing injury victims and their families in a wide range of claims, including Indiana DUI accidents. To learn more, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.

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