Report from the District Attorney: When worlds collide

editorial opinion3

By Fayette District Attorney Marie Broder

District Attorney Marie Broder. Photo/Submitted.
Fayette District Attorney Marie Broder.

I hope everyone is doing well. Groundhog Day was last week, and I understand that we will be having an early spring here in Georgia. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I hate the cold, so this was welcome news.

Today, I wanted to explain some of the differences between our civil and criminal justice systems. When someone is seeking monetary compensation for a wrong that is done, the civil courts provide a remedy. For disputes involving less than $15,000 you can file a claim in magistrate court and often have your case heard within a few months. A judge, but not a jury, is the decision maker.

For those seeking more than $15,000, or who want a jury to hear their case, you can pursue claims in Superior Court or State Court. I, of course, recommend consulting a lawyer before making any decisions about filing a lawsuit.

The criminal justice system addresses persons who have been accused of crimes. As the District Attorney, one of my responsibilities is deciding which charges will be brought or dropped. In short, just because someone CAN be charged with a crime, I am tasked with asking if the person SHOULD be charged with a crime.

I am also responsible for deciding whether a plea deal should be offered to a defendant or whether a case should be tried to a jury. My office makes these determinations on a case-by-case basis, as the facts of each case will be different.

Our primary concerns are pursuing only those cases that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the impact on the victims, the safety of the community at large, and the interests of justice. Ultimately, the consequence to the person accused of a crime will be jail time, probation, restitution, or no punishment at all if the charges are dropped or a jury finds the defendant not guilty.

There are some responsibilities over which my office has no control. Although I can negotiate a plea with a defendant, a judge ultimately decides whether to accept that proposed plea. I also do not determine the sentence that will be handed down after a defendant is convicted. This task resides solely with the judge.

There are times when the civil and criminal worlds collide. For example, when a drunk driver hits someone, they could face a charge for Driving Under the Influence, and have a claim brought against them by the injured person for their injuries. The civil justice system would provide financial compensation to the victim. The criminal justice system would punish the wrongdoer.

In other cases, what might seem to involve both the criminal and civil worlds is not so clear. People will approach our office asking us to pursue criminal charges because they are unhappy about the performance of a contractor, the quality of a good that was sold to them, or some other scenario in which they are ultimately seeking some sort of monetary compensation from another person or a company.

At first blush, it might seem that someone who refuses to do a job they were paid to do has committed theft. That is certainly the way most people understandably feel when faced with this situation, but the law requires the State to prove “intent.” It is not just that the person did not do what they were paid to do, we would have to show that their purpose was to take the money.

This sounds simple enough, but is usually not the case when a contractor fails to complete the work or does a poor job. Of course, there are times when there are sufficient grounds to pursue charges, depending on the particular facts of the case. However, what is ultimately a failure to follow through on a promise, and the desire to be paid for that failure, are best addressed through the civil justice system.

As your District Attorney, I continue to focus on protecting our community by prosecuting those who do evil in the Circuit. We have upcoming jury trials scheduled throughout the Circuit, and my prosecutors will be trying child molestations, armed robberies, home invasions, and other cases on the criminal docket. I hope to report back with good news. Until then, please stay safe and be kind to one another.

[Marie Broder has served as the Griffin Judicial Circuit district attorney since 2020. She resides in Griffin.]