Understanding the Difference: Criminal Law vs. Civil Law

If you find yourself involved in a lawsuit, the first thing you need to do is figure out whether it is a criminal case or a civil case. Understanding the difference between criminal law vs. civil law is essential to choosing the best defense for your case.

Who’s Involved in Criminal Law vs. Civil Law Cases

The biggest difference when it comes to criminal law vs. civil law is who is involved in the case. Criminal cases are filed by the state which alleges an offense against society. This is the case whether harm was done to an individual or not. In criminal cases the state is referred to as the prosecution and the accused is referred to as the defendant. Defendants in criminal cases have the right to an attorney. If they cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint one to defend them in the case. Criminal case defendants also have the right to a trial by jury. Your freedom and liberty is at stake in a criminal case, as well as potential financial and other collateral penalties.

A civil case generally involves a private dispute between two parties. In a civil case, the party accusing the other of wrongdoing is known as the plaintiff and the party being accused of wrongdoing is the defendant. Unlike in criminal cases, the defendant in a civil case does not have the right to an attorney. If they cannot afford an attorney, the defendant is required to represent his/her self. Most civil cases are decided by the presiding judge and do not involve a jury, although they can be decided by a jury as well. Such cases typically involve monetary damages, not your freedom.

The Punishment

The punishment for losing in a civil case is typically much less severe than if you lose a criminal case. A civil case loss results in the defendant paying the plaintiff for the wrongdoing. The amount the defendant owes is usually decided by a judge, but sometimes a jury.

In comparison, the punishment for being charged in a criminal case may include:

  • Fines
  • Jail Time
  • Additional collateral consequences, such as loss of drivers license

In most criminal cases, the severity of the punishment is decided by the judge.

The Burden of Proof

In a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. During the trial, the prosecution must prove, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the guilt of the defendant. In a civil case, the burden of proof belongs to the plaintiff, who must present a “preponderance of evidence” against the defendant. The proof required for civil cases is less strict.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense and need representation, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer today! Adam Pollack has been practicing law for over 20 years and will fight for your rights. Request your free consultation today.

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