Introduction to Criminal Law

Only a few people actually know “the law”. Others think that the criminal justice system is a body that only has one set of rules and laws and all act the same. Not to mention that because of television they think that every case is tried at criminal court with a judge and a panel of jurors. However that is not the case because there’s two specifically types of law, civil and criminal law. Though both are very different from each other, both results are the same since they help protect our rights as citizens.

Before we get to know what the differences between civil and criminal law we have to understand what each of them mean and how they work. Civil law takes over cases that are normally non-violent crimes. Civil law is about private disputes between individuals or between individuals and companies/organizations. This is where people who have disagreements over contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, and damages for personal and property damage are dealt with. (What is Civil Law?)

Civil law is meant for people to solve their disputes in a peaceful and orderly manner. Civil disputes most likely end up in one party paying for damages done to the other or having to abstain from a particular activity. I want to say cases that go to civil law rarely, if ever, the defenders don’t go to jail. (What is Civil Law?)

Criminal law takes over cases that are felonies and misdemeanors such as murder, assault, traffic charges, burglary, sexual assault, and etcetera. (What is Criminal Law?) In criminal law, the legal action is initiated by the prosecutor who decides whether to bring charges and exactly what charges to bring. Criminal law is used to punish people that along with their crimes or offenses have put others safety and welfare in danger. (Samaha, 2008) Most of the time, all offenders are punished depending on the severity of the crime they’ve committed.

Probably the most distinguished and obvious difference between civil and criminal law is that civil law deals with most non-violent crimes and criminal law deal with cases where the defendant commits a serious offense that endangers the welfare and safety of others. People that commit crimes such as murder, sexual assaults, robberies, and other crimes that involve people being in danger of their lives or safety are part of the criminal law. Law suits, divorces, contract settlements, are all examples of civil cases.

Punishments in both types of laws are polar opposites. In civil law, the defendant never gets put in jail or gets executed for the case they’re being tried for. (Standler, 1998) It’s been discussed that you cannot execute a person unless they themselves have committed a murder because that would be cruel or unusual punishment (Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, 2008). The defendant, if found guilty of course, will most likely pay some kind of monetary compensation to the other party instead of going to jail. On the other hand, for criminal offenses, the defendant is punished by being sentenced for time in jail, paying a monetary fine, and in extreme criminal cases, the death penalty is issued.

There are four types of punishments that the criminal law system uses that fit the crime that each individual committed. For example, you won’t give a life sentence to someone who was charged with possession of an illegal substance because that person could get rehabilitation and eventually be fit for society. Retribution is the first of the justifications for punishment. Retribution is essentially punishment based on just deserts, so the more severe your crime is, the harsher the punishment. The second justification is prevention, deterrence to be exact; there are two types of deterrence, general and specific deterrence.

General deterrence aims at society as a whole by imposing a hefty penalty on those who commit an offense so that others are discouraged from doing it. Specific deterrence is a penalty imposed to that one offender so he/she can discouraged from further committing this one crime. The third is rehabilitation is the prevention of crime by treatment. Lastly, incapacitation is punishment by imprisonment, mutilation, or even death. Incapacitation might be the most common of the four. (Samaha, 2008) In a criminal case, the defendant is not legally required to testify for or against themselves.

They also have the right to a lawyer, and if they can’t afford one, one will be provided to them by the state. If the police want to interrogate the defendant, he or she has the right to have their lawyer present at the time of interrogation. During trial, the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. If he or she is guilty, the lawyer can still win the case for his client if he feels there is insufficient or circumstantial evidence against his client. In civil law testimony is quite simple because anyone who has knowledge of the facts that could aid the case in any way or form is often required to testify in court.

Anyone who testifies or is a witness has the right to appear with his or her attorney. If any of the parties plays the Fifth Amendment card against self-incrimination, the judge will instruct the jury to make an adverse inference against the party that refused to testify. Burden of proof is when the prosecution presents evidence at the trial that proves beyond any doubt that the accused person committed the crime for which they have been charged. In criminal law, the burden of proof is always on the state because it’s the state’s job to prove that the defender is guilty.

The defender doesn’t need to prove anything because he or she is always assumed not guilty, of course unless they confess otherwise. In civil law, the plaintiff has to prove each element of the claim to the judge in order to be relieved. (Standler, 1998) In order to understand more about civil and criminal law, I decided to give two examples of cases from both civil and criminal law. Mr. Kennedy reported to the police that his stepdaughter of 12 years of age had been raped. When police arrived, they saw the girl wrapped around a bloody blanket, she was bleeding from her private areas which were severely damaged. Kennedy and his stepdaughter had both told police that it was a pair of neighboring boys who had done this to her but police insisted on keeping Kennedy in their sights because they suspected he was lying.

He incriminated himself by making several phone calls before the rape saying he wouldn’t be coming into work and wanting information on how to get rid of blood stains from a fabric. He was arrested and charged with aggravated rape of a child. He was found guilty from the charges brought against him and was sentenced to death. He appealed and his case was brought to the Supreme Court because the defendant’s party found that his sentence was harsh since his stepdaughter did not die. His sentencing was overturned because the court found it to be cruel or unusual suspect. (Samaha, 2008) This civil case comes in form of a lawsuit between Barry K. Brown and Richard Kay

. In the case Barry K. Brown v. Richard Kay, relates to the art collection of Himan Brown, a well-known radio and television producer. Brown is Himan's long-estranged son. Brown claims fraud and conversion against the creator of Himan's estate and against two wills created by Himan. Barry alleges that Himan sabotaged a provision long-ago, agreement under which Himan and his ex-wife had stated that upon their death Barry and his sister were to inherit 34 pieces of art.

The plaintiff decided later to drop the lawsuit as there wasn’t much evidence and failing to state a claim correctly. (Barry K. Brown v. Richard Kay) It’s really easy to understand the differences between civil and criminal law since they’re both so completely different. To sum it up in the words of William Geldart, “The difference between civil law and criminal law turns on the difference between two different objects which law seeks to pursue - redress or punishment.” (Geldart, 1907)

Bibliography Barry K. Brown v. Richard Kay. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2012, from Find A Case: Geldart, W. (1907). Elements of English Law.

Samaha, J. (2008). Criminal Law. Belmont: Wadsworth. Standler, R. B. (1998). Differences between Civil and Criminal Law in the USA. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from What is Civil Law? (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from Civics Library Of The Missouri Bar: What is Civil Law? (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from WiseGeek: What is Criminal Law? (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from Quiz Law: