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Is The Burden Of Proof Lower In A Civil RICO Lawsuit In Florida?


The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a law that imposed liability for harm caused by illicit racketeering activity. The RICO Act has both criminal and civil statutory elements. A defendant could be arrested and charged with a criminal RICO offense and/or a defendant could face a civil RICO lawsuit from a private party.

This raises an important question: Is the burden of proof the same in a civil RICO lawsuit and a criminal RICO case? The answer is ‘no’—while civil RICO claims are subject to the preponderance of evidence standard, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In this article, our West Palm Beach RICO claims attorneys provide a more detailed explanation.

Standard of Proof: Preponderance of Evidence in a Civil RICO Lawsuit 

In order to get a criminal conviction in a RICO case, a state or federal prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The reasonable doubt standard is designed to put a high burden on prosecutors. However, the reasonable doubt standard of liability does not apply to civil RICO litigation—even though the federal RICO Act and Florida RICO act have criminal elements.

Federal and state courts have consistently held that civil RICO claims are resolved under the preponderance of evidence standard of liability. The Cornell Legal Information Institute explains that preponderance of evidence is a more likely than not standard of fault. A plaintiff in a civil RICO claim must prove that there is a greater than 50 percent likelihood that the defendant is liable.

Do Not Be Misled: Proving Liability in a Civil RICO Lawsuit is Challenging 

Although the reasonable doubt standard of liability does not apply to civil RICO litigation in Florida, it would be a very big mistake to assume that it is easy to establish civil RICO liability. In reality, civil RICO claims are complicated. There are very strict pleading requirements that must be satisfied in order to ensure that your civil RICO complaint makes it through the pleading stage. To properly plead a federal civil RICO complaint or a Florida civil RICO complaint, a plaintiff must:

  1. Provide a clear, plain English, and compelling statement that the court has jurisdiction;
  2. Provide a statement that relief is entitled—meaning alleging sufficient facts that the defendant(s) actually violated civil RICO laws; and
  3. Provide a clear, compelling demand for compensation to account for damages sustained due to the RICO violation.  

Set Up a Confidential Case Assessment With a Florida Civil RICO Lawyer

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our West Palm Beach commercial litigation attorneys represent both plaintiffs and defendants and civil RICO claims. If you have any questions about the burden of proof in a civil RICO lawsuit, we are here as a resource. Contact us now to schedule your confidential case review. With law office locations in West Palm Beach, Wellington, and Miami, we provide civil RICO representation throughout all of South Florida.

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