Understanding the difference between Civil and Criminal Law
In the United States, our legal system is divided into two types of cases: criminal and civil. They are very different.
Criminal cases are crimes against the state, and thus are prosecuted by the government accusing you of the offense.
Civil cases, on the other hand, generally are considered disputes between people or businesses related to something that’s owed to someone. These are handled with civil lawsuits.
What are some of the key differences between civil and criminal cases?
Here are some of the big differences between civil and criminal law:
- Crimes are regarded as offenses against the state, or crimes against society. Even though the victim in a murder is the person who was killed, murder as a criminal charge is, in the legal world, a crime against society. That’s why crimes against society are prosecuted by the state. In these cases, a prosecutor files the charges in court. He or she is acting on behalf of the state when the court papers are filed.
- Punishment – Typically, the punishment for criminal cases could involve jail time, but most of the time, civil cases end with monetary awards or orders from the court to take some kind of action or stop doing something.Criminal offenses and civil offenses are generally different in terms of their punishment. In addition to jail time, money can also be a factor in criminal cases, but they are fines and retribution.
- Civil cases have a much lower standard of proof than criminal cases. To be convicted of a crime, the law says the prosecution has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, it just has to be determined that it seems more likely that something happened or didn’t happen. The proof requirements highlight that criminal cases are generally regarded as much more serious than civil cases, because the punishments are harsher.
- Criminal cases, in almost all cases, can go before a jury if the defendant chooses. Civil cases can sometimes be decided by a jury, but in most cases, the lawsuit will never reach a courtroom. It will be settled before. If it does make it to court, often, a judge will make a ruling, not a jury.
- The Bill of Rights says that anyone arrested for a crime has the right to an attorney, and if the accused cannot afford one, one must be provided. That’s not the case in civil law. A person filing a civil lawsuit or defending themselves in a lawsuit must hire his or her own attorney — or represent himself or herself in court.
- Defendants in criminal cases have a lot more legal protections — like the right to a fair and speedy trial or protections against unlawful searches and seizures. Those same protections are not given to someone who’s defending himself or herself in a civil case. That’s because defendants face much harsher punishments if convicted.
As you can see, criminal and civil law are both very complicated, and if you or someone you love is accused of a crime it’s imperative that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record. Contact Jacqueline Ford’s office today for help.