Good day readers. Thru this essay, I will try to explain and point out the differences between Civil and Criminal Cases. The legal system used in the United States is based on common law and is divided into criminal law and civil law. The Civil law and Criminal law are two broad and separate entities of law with separate sets of laws and punishments, but a case can be heard and handle in both courts, State circuit and a Federal district court, due lawyers provide this options to their clients depending on the case, even that exists a number of differences between the two. Let’s start with their definition and how they work.
Definition:| Civil Case| Criminal Case| Civil law deals with the disputes between individuals, organizations, or between the two, in which compensation is awarded to the victim.| Criminal law lis the body of law that deals with crime and the legal punishment of criminal offenses.| How it’s works?| Civil Case| Criminal Case|
Civil law is about private disputes between individuals or between an individual and an organization or between organizations. Civil law deals with the harm, loss, or injury to one party or the other. A defendant in a Civil Case is found liable or not liable for damages.| Criminal law looks after public interests, and involves punishing and rehabilitating offenders, and protecting the society. A person reports a crime to the police and then they investigate the matter and find the suspect. If the charge has been properly presented and is enough supporting evidence of it, the Government, not the person who complains of the incident, prosecutes it in the courts. In a Criminal Case defendant may be found guilty or not.|
Some of the differences that I’ll point out are: “Parties Involved, Level of Proof, Penalties Imposed, and Examples.”, to provide you a good understanding of such differences. Parties Involve| Civil Case| Criminal Case| Parties involve in the Civil Case are private individuals. Can be between two persons or between a person and a company. In Civil cases, parties hire lawyers to represent them. The party complaining is called the plaintiff and the party responding is called the defendant and the process is called litigation. The party, who claim has the burden of proving his case on a "balance of probabilities." This means that a judge or jury must believe his story and evidence more than the defendant’s version. They do not need to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.|
Parties involve in the Criminal Cases, always involve the Government (Federal, State or Municipal) as one of the parties, and is who brings the action in the name of its citizens against a defendant who has been accused of committing a crime. In a Criminal Case, the representation is tried by a district attorney and a public defender. The case is filed by the government, usually referred to as the State and represented by a prosecutor, against a defendant. This legal action is also known as a suit. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court appoints one free of charge. If the defendant pleads guilty, there is no need for a trial to determine innocence or guilt.|
Testimony| Civil Case| Criminal Case| In a civil case, anyone with knowledge of facts relevant to the case can generally be required to testify as a witness in court, and the defendant must be available and cooperative for depositions and testimony as a witness in the trial. In other words, the defendant in a civil case must help his/her opponent collect evidence that will defeat the defendant.| In a criminal case, the defendant is not required to testify and has the right to legal counsel. The defendant has the right to consult with an attorney before speaking about the case. The defendant has the right to plead not guilty and be tried in a court.|
Level of Proof| Civil Case| Criminal Case| On a Civil Case, the decision if the defendant is guilty in cause harm to the complainant is based on the supporting claim and evidence presented.| On a Criminal Case, the Government need to proof without a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of violate a statute protected by the government. The defendant retains the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by the state.|
Penalties Imposed| Civil Case| Criminal Case| On Civil Cases, the penalties imposed are monetary penalties. This type of penalty is compensation to the party affected and his or her family. This amount of loss which is determined by the judge is called punitive damage.| On Criminal Cases, beside of a monetary charge to compensate the part affected, a punishment is imposes. This punishment is determined and decided by the court, and usually involves a stay in prison, a fine and in some occasion’s death penalty.| A criminal litigation is more serious than civil litigation, where the criminal defendants have more rights and protections than a civil defendant.
Examples of Cases| Civil Law| Criminal Law| Landlord/tenant disputes, divorce proceedings, child custody proceedings, property disputes, negligence or malpractice, personal injury, etc.| Theft, assault, robbery, trafficking in controlled substances, murder, etc.| One famous case where the defendant was accused in both Civil and Criminal Law system was the case of O.J. Simpson. In the O.J, Simpson case, he was accused of Murder in a criminal trial and liable of wrongful death in the civil trial. How was this possible? The criminal law system has a different court system, with different burdens of proofs, that involves different laws. Where in a civil case for wrongful death, the plaintiff has to show only that the defendant was legally responsible for the death, and the burden of proof is a much lower standard.
In the civil jury, they found O.J., more likely than not that he caused the death of his wife and her friend, and the criminal jury was unable to find beyond a reasonable doubt that O.J. committed first-degree murder.
Summary: Each court, State circuit or Federal district court, can handle both Civil and Criminal cases, bases on the severity of the violation. As you can appreciate, even that both process are part of our legal system, and are completely different, both systems are used to make a wrong a right through a fair judicial process.
- Bruce Cantrell, The Differences between Criminal and Civil Law: http://www.giac.org/cissp-papers/387.pdf
- American Bar Association How Courts Work: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_related_education_network/how_courts_work.html