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Table of Contents
The civil suit in which the retired Commander Charles Coughlin has been found guilty on two charges (theft of government property and false claim), undeniably offers an epitome example of the existence of supplementation between criminal and civil liability (Samaha, 2013). Coughlin purportedly collected $331,034 from September 9/11 victims’ fund by claiming that had he sustained head and neck injuries. The money was then used, partially, to settle his automobile loans and $100,000 was used to pay for his $1millon house; thus, giving the state legal rights to seek forfeiture (Samaha, 2013). Herein, an attempt is made at elucidating and discussing the ethical dilemma linked to these cases, especially relating to the forfeiture and pertinent liabilities.
In 2004, more than two years since the 9/11 attacks, Coughlin, asserting his deteriorating health through a series of mails to the Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) office in Virginia, sought after his compensation. He allegedly claimed that the head and neck injuries sustained during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon had caused unbearable health and economic suffering by limiting his physical abilities, which forced him to pay for services like window cleaning. What followed was the sanctioning of his compensation. However, medical reports submitted by him had been purportedly doctored to hide his prior medical injuries. The prosecution began in 2008 after evidence had emerged proving that he had continued to participate in sports after the terror attacks. He was acquitted of 5 of the 7 charges under statutes 18 U.S.C. §1341 prompting a change from the criminal suit pursued by the prosecutor to the civic suit (U.S v. Coughlin, 2011; Samaha, 2013). Eventually, he was found guilty of false claim and property theft.
The thin line dividing civil and criminal suits led to interpretations over Coughlin’s case by Judge Kennedy of the Supreme Court on verdicts rendered by the jury as per the offences related to mail fraud. Consequently, the district court circuit split depended upon appellate interpretations on contemporaneous claims of double jeopardy and mistrials that led the prosecutor to consider seeking the civil suit (U.S v. Coughlin, 2011). Serving his sentence and having to forfeit the allegedly stolen properties are similar to the pursuance of concurrent sentencing.
However, this interpretation would change completely were it proved that Coughlin was not guilty on all the seven counts. The fact that he continued to play basketball, lacrosse, and even participate in marathons shortly and long after the alleged time of injury results in an ethical issue. Albeit the jury acquitted him of mail fraud charges, under the interpretation that Coughlin might have been a person who did not let challenges outweigh his participation in life, the question would arise regarding the real intent of seeking compensation two years after the injuries had allegedly occurred. His medical records where doctored and inconsistent. Thus, even if the jury were to sanction a not guilty verdict, partial, requisition, or outright forfeiture of his properties would have had deterrence consequences. Nevertheless, a not guilty verdict would have most likely led to the abandonment of the requisition attempt under normal litigation procedures.
Indeed, there are cases where two sovereign circuits can concur with a verdict over civil or/and criminal punishment. Neither of the two liabilities can be said to exclude the other mutually. However, this must be done after thorough statutory interpretations done in comity with Supreme courts, as is the case with U.S v. Coughlin. More often than not, inconsistency always raises suspicions and without litigation that deters this, cracks in the jurisprudence often become vivid. The ethical issue as to whether the government should seek requisition may be debatable; it may not be ethical for the Court or the government to impose two consecutive sentences for the same related offense of theft. It is undeniable that frivolous acquisitions of wealth often go hand-in-hand with anomalies and inconsistency. In Coughlin’s case, it is seen when he knowingly omits, hides, and cleverly doctors his medical history as he allegedly omitted his finger injury while in a basketball game after 9/11.