against him, and was duly convicted, there is no sound reason why the judgment of conviction should not be admitted in a civil case based on the same facts as at least prima facie evidence of those facts.
It may be argued that in prosecutions for some misdemeanors the offense charged is not of sufficient importance to warrant the defendant's contesting it to the fullest extent, and that under such circumstances the conviction should not estop the defendant to challenge the same facts in a civil proceeding. This objection is met if one holds the criminal conviction to be only prima facie evidence in the civil case, subject to rebuttal and to be given such weight as the trier of the facts deems proper. Where the criminal prosecution has been actively defended and no rebutting evidence is offered, the court is warranted in holding the conviction conclusive proof of the facts in the civil action.
No District of Columbia case on this point has been called to the court's attention. Other federal courts,
as well as the courts of Maryland
have recognized exceptions to the rule of exclusion.
On the facts of this case, where the sole issue determined by the Municipal Court convictions of the plaintiff and its officers was the sale of liquor on the leased premises in violation of § 25-109 of the District of Columbia Code, this court holds that the judgments of conviction were admissible as prima facie evidence of the unlawful use of the leased premises by the plaintiff, and, the convictions having been affirmed by the Municipal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and there being no rebutting evidence, the convictions were conclusive proof of that fact.
In a situation such as this, common sense and good judicial administration dictate that the civil court shall not retry at length, more than two years after the occurrence, issues which were fairly determined in the criminal proceeding; when the evidence was fresh, by a competent tribunal after full litigation by the party against whom the conviction is offered in evidence.
However, in this case, even if it be held that evidence of the convictions was improperly received and that the record contains no evidence of the unlawful use of the premises in question, the plaintiff's action must fail, as any interest which it had in the lease was acquired by the defendant under a valid tax sale by the federal government.