The United States has two types of laws to protect its citizens against wrongdoing. The two bodies of law are civil law and criminal law. Civil cases are concerned with any injury to an individual or a corporation. Some examples are personal injury, defamation, etc. Civil laws also pertain to laws such as divorce laws, immigration laws, business laws, etc. Criminal law pertains to acts that harm the public, society, or state. Examples of crimes are rape, murder, battery, assault, etc.
Let’s delve into the differences between civil and criminal laws in the US:
- The purpose of criminal law is to maintain law and order in the state. Hence, in a criminal lawsuit, the accused is given a punishment. This punishment is given to deter more crimes and sometimes to reform the criminal. In a civil case, there is no punishment given to the defendant. A defendant will need to pay compensation to the plaintiff if proven guilty.
- In a criminal lawsuit, the case is initiated by the state or federal government known as the prosecution. A civil case is initiated by a private party that may be an individual or a corporation.
- A petition in a criminal case cannot be filed directly. The normal process is that a complaint needs to be registered with the police. After this, an investigation is conducted by them and the case is filed in court. In a civil lawsuit, the case can be filed directly in court.
- The outcome of a criminal case is decided by a jury. However, in a civil case, the judge decides the result.
- A defendant in a criminal case is either guilty or not guilty of the crime. However, the defendant in a civil lawsuit needs to be proved liable or not liable for the act.
- The punishment in a criminal case may be a fine paid to the government if the crime is not very severe. In case of severe crimes, the defendant could be given punishments like imprisonment. However, in a civil lawsuit, the defendant is usually required to pay compensation to the plaintiff.
- In a criminal case, the “burden of proof” lies with the prosecution. Simply put, the prosecution is required to prove the accused guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, the plaintiff in a civil case needs to prove the defendant’s liability according to the “preponderance of the evidence.”
- The constitutional rights of a defendant in a criminal case are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. The rights of a defendant are also protected against compelled self-incrimination. However, the defendant in a criminal case does not have such protection.
These are some of the major differences between a civil and a criminal lawsuit. Whether you are the defendant or the plaintiff in a criminal or civil case, you will need experienced lawyers to guide you or represent you in the case. A criminal lawyer represents a defendant in a criminal lawsuit. A civil lawyer helps clients in matters of immigration laws, bankruptcy, personal injury, etc. Ward K Johnson Law Firm has the best lawyers to represent you in a civil or criminal case!