The Difference Between Criminal And Civil Court Cases

In the eye's of the legal system, what makes a harmful action a criminal act vs. a civil offense? A basic distinction would be that crimes affect society as a whole and civil offenses affect individuals. Murders affect individuals, but they also interfere with the government's ability to maintain the peace, and thus, they are considered criminal acts. You can, however, sue a person for civil damages, in some cases, even if they have committed a criminal act. One consideration when choosing whether to pursue a criminal or civil case is the difference between the two types of cases.  

Deal vs. Settlement

If the evidence in a case is solid, there may be no room for legal negotiations. On the other hand, even when there is a rock solid case, there may be room to negotiate. In a civil case, the plaintiff will typically ask for a certain amount of money in damages. The defendant may, instead of maintaining innocence, decide to settle. In a criminal case, defendants may decide to make a deal, in which they admit to guilt, plead no contest, agree to testify, or provide information to help the prosecution pursue a criminal case against another party in order to receive a lesser penalty. Deciding whether to plead for innocence or accept a settlement or deal can be a tough choice that clients should talk over with their lawyer.

Damages vs. Penalties

In a civil case, only money is at stake. Any defendant who is convicted of wrongdoing will have to pay out a specified amount of money in damages. While these damages can be a burden for the defendant, their liberty is never in jeopardy. Not only can the court punish the guilty party with a fine, but a judge could also order jail time. Thus, the stakes are much higher for the accused party in a criminal case. 

Preponderance of Proof vs. Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In a civil case, the consequences of being convicted are much less burdensome as compared to jail time or even capital punishment. Because those convicted of wrongdoing in civil cases face lesser consequences, the plaintiff must only present a preponderance of proof; whereas, in a criminal case, the prosecution must proof guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

As someone who has been wronged, you should consider the evidence available to you and the type of wrong you have suffered. Even if you are the victim of a crime, you may wish to pursue a civil case in that you can receive money in the form of damages, and the chances of winning the case are greater in that less proof is required to win a civil case. 

For further assistance, contact a local criminal defense lawyer, such as Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law.