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Is a Stipulation to Facts an ‘Admission’ After All?

The accepted wisdom is that a civil defendant's conviction (e.g., for a traffic offense in a case based on a car wreck) is not a binding admission of wrongdoing — and thus is not admissible in the civil trial — if the defendant merely "stipulated" that the underlying facts are true and did not admit guilt.

But in the August Trial Briefs, Winnebago County Circuit Judge Eugene G. Doherty points to a 35-year-old appellate case, Batterton v. Thurman105 Ill. App. 3d 798434 N.E.2d 1174 (3d Dist. 1982), that indicates otherwise. (Trial Briefs is the newsletter of ISBA's Civil Practice Section.) In Batterton, the court found that the defendant's stipulation to the underlying facts in a criminal proceeding constituted a binding admission and was admissible in the subsequent civil trial.

Doherty finds Batterton persuasive. "What is the practical difference between a defendant pleading guilty to an offense (which is clearly an admission) as opposed to stipulating to the factual basis for a conviction of that offense?" he asks. "If I agree that I ate a sandwich containing bacon, lettuce, and tomato, do I have wiggle room to deny that I had a BLT?"

He notes that "appellate decisions since Batterton have continued to follow the rule laid down in that case: a stipulation to the facts supporting a criminal conviction may be introduced in a subsequent civil trial as an admission against interest," citing several examples.

"If there is a lesson here for lawyers and judges, it is that no one should abide by the simple rule that a stipulation to the facts supporting a guilty plea is necessarily inadmissible in a subsequent civil proceeding," he writes. "The stipulation-versus-guilty-plea argument is not a magic bullet."

For more, read Doherty's article.

Posted on October 18, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson
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