Last week one of the nurses involved in the “Angel of Death” Illinois nursing home abuse situation was sentenced following a plea deal being reached in her case. Our Illinois nursing home attorneys are representing one of the families involved in this tragedy in a civil lawsuit. As we’ve frequently reported, the case involves the intentional drugging of certain nursing home residents by a nurse of the facility. The nurse intentionally administered the drugs to the residents-leading to the deaths of several of them-under the notion that she was “helping” put them out of their apparent misery.
As ABC News reported, the former nurse in the case pled guilty to one count of criminal neglect. As a result of her plea deal she admitted her guilt for at least one felony. Agreeing to the deal allows her to avoid jail time, as she was instead sentenced to probation. Per the terms of the plea deal approved last week, the nurse admitted to one count of neglect so that the other five counts were dropped by prosecutors. This resulted in a two year probation sentence.
This resolution does not end the legal issues related to the drugging of residents in 2006. As often occurs in egregious cases of nursing home abuse or mistreatment like this one, the situation spawned both criminal and civil cases. For those not familiar with the working of the legal system, this can seem confusing. Criminal and civil legal cases, even if they stem from the same events, are very different. At a most basic level each case requires different elements to be proven and come with different burdens of proof regarding those elements. For example, the prosecution in the criminal case had to show that the nurse’s mental state at the time of her actions was of “criminal neglect” which is a higher level of culpability than that required to be shown in a civil case. In addition, the prosecution was required to prove that she exhibited that level of neglect “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Conversely, mere civil neglect need only be proven “by a preponderance of the evidence.”
These distinctions may not seem all that great when read in an article, but in the context of proving a case at trial the distinctions are crucially important. The difference between these distinctions is exactly why many individuals are acquitted of criminal charges but then deemed liable in subsequent civil suits (the O.J. Simpson murder case is a high-profile example).
The increased difficulty in a criminal prosecution (as opposed to civil liability) results in many plea deals being reached in these kinds of cases. A plea deal being reached should never be taken as evidence that an individual did not actually engage in the charged conduct. Instead, as Attorney Levin explained in the ABC News story on this Illinois nursing home abuse case, the pleas are often just a reflection of the inherent difficulty in prosecuting certain criminal cases. The situation is likely to be much different when it comes to the ongoing civil case.
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