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What Standard Of Proof Applies To Civil RICO Lawsuits?


The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act was signed into law in 1970. The primary purpose of RICO is to give the government the authority to hold parties accountable for racketeering activity performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. A person arrested on a criminal RICO charge is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are also federal and state civil RICO laws in place that allow private parties to seek compensation for damages sustained due to racketeering activity. Civil RICO claims are governed by the preponderance of evidence standard, not the reasonable doubt standard. Here, our West Palm Beach RICO claims lawyers explain the standard of proof in civil RICO litigation.

Supreme Court Dictum: Criminal Standard of Proof Does Not Apply to Civil RICO Claims 

RICO is a complicated law. There are both criminal and civil provisions. In the 1985 case of Sedima, S.P.R.L. v. Imrex Co., the Supreme Court of the United States held in dictum that the criminal standard of proof (reasonable doubt) does not apply to civil RICO claims. Dictum is essentially a formal pronouncement from an authoritative source. However, an observation made in dictum is not necessarily binding on lower courts.

That being said, federal appeals courts throughout the country have consistently held that the reasonable doubt standard of liability does not apply to civil RICO litigation. Instead, the less burdensome preponderance of evidence standard (more likely than not standard) is the appropriate standard of liability in a civil RICO lawsuit. This has very important implications for both plaintiffs and defendants in civil RICO cases.

Why the Standard of Proof Matters: Less Burdensome for the Plaintiff

Under both federal law and Florida state law, criminal cases are subject to the reasonable doubt standard. It is a higher standard of proof—meaning prosecutors must present strong and compelling evidence of guilt in order to obtain a conviction in a criminal case, including in a RICO case.

In contrast, plaintiffs in civil legal proceedings are generally not held to the same standard of liability. As with other types of civil cases, civil RICO claims are governed by the preponderance of evidence standard. Under this legal standard, a plaintiff only needs to prove that it is “more likely than not” that their damages were caused by the defendant’s civil RICO violation.

Summary: Civil RICO plaintiffs are not required to prove liability beyond a reasonable doubt. The more forgiving preponderance of evidence standard applies to these cases.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Civil RICO Attorney in West Palm Beach

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Palm Beach County civil RICO lawyers have the specialized legal experience that you can rely on. If you have questions or concerns about the standard of proof or standard of liability in civil RICO litigation, we are here to help. Call us now for a strictly confidential, no obligation case evaluation. Our firm represents clients throughout Southeastern Florida, including West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Miami Beach.

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