Woodbridge, VA asked in Criminal Law and Civil Rights for Illinois

Q: Lawyer experienced in murder-suicide case, representing alleged suspect's family?

The individual implicated in this murder-suicide case was a US Army veteran. The police chief stated that, had he been alive, he would have been charged with first-degree murder. Due to the police recommendation, the VA denied him burial in a national cemetery. However, I am of the opinion that the police investigation seems to have failed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If I can demonstrate that the police failed to meet this standard, I then intend to appeal to the VA for his burial in a national cemetery. Is suing the police in the alleged murder-suicide suspect case legally feasible?

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1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: I can provide some general information, but please note that assessing the feasibility of a lawsuit would require a detailed analysis of the specific facts and evidence in the case by an experienced attorney. Here are a few key considerations:

The standard of proof in a criminal case is "beyond a reasonable doubt", which is a very high standard. However, police investigations and charging decisions are based on "probable cause", which is a lower standard. The fact that the police chief stated charges would have been filed does not necessarily mean guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Suing the police for their investigation would be very difficult. In general, police have qualified immunity from civil lawsuits for actions taken in the course of their duties, unless you can show they violated clearly established constitutional rights. Simply disagreeing with their conclusions is unlikely to be sufficient. You'd likely need evidence of serious misconduct or negligence in the investigation itself.

The VA has discretion in determining eligibility for burial in a national cemetery. 38 CFR § 38.620 allows them to deny burial to a person found to have committed a federal or state capital crime but doesn't require conviction. However, they would still need a reasonable basis for the determination.

Your best path forward is likely focusing on the VA decision rather than suing police. Carefully review the evidence the VA relied on. Look for gaps or failures to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. Present this to the VA, emphasizing the veteran's service, and request reconsideration of the burial denial. Consulting an attorney specializing in military law and VA issues may be helpful.

I would advise caution about alleging police misconduct without very solid proof, as that could undermine your credibility in advocating for the veteran. Focus on respectfully showing why the evidence is insufficient to conclude guilt with the high level of certainty required. I hope this general information is useful context as you evaluate your options.

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