What are the differences between civil and criminal cases?

what are the differences between civil and criminal cases?


Civil and criminal cases are two very different types of cases in the American Legal System. In this article, we aim to highlight the key differences between these two.

What is a civil case?

Civil cases are private disputes regarding legal duties or responsibilities between individuals or organizations that are usually settled through monetary compensation or orders restraining an individual from doing or not doing something.

What is a criminal case?

Criminal cases are commonly known as crimes, and are considered as offenses against the state. This means that the act is considered harmful to society as a whole. Most crimes are punishable by both jail time and monetary punishments in the form of fines.

Key differences between civil and criminal cases.

1 – Filling.

With a civil case, the victim files the case in the court. While criminal cases are prosecuted by the state and the prosecutor, not the victim.

2 – Punishments.

Punishment is less severe for civil cases and are generally in the form of monetary damages or a restraining order against the other party. On the other hand, criminal cases are punishable by both jail time and fines.

3 – Standards of proof.

Crimes should be proven “beyond reasonable doubt”.  Whereas, civil cases have lower standards of proof such as “the preponderance of the evidence” – this means that the offense more likely to have occurred that not.

4 – Legal representation.

The defendant in a criminal case is entitled to an attorney. If he or she cannot afford to pay for one, the state must provide legal representation. Whereas, a defendant in a civil case is not given this representation. Therefore, he or she must get one or defend him/herself personally in court.

5 – Protections.

Criminal cases have protections in place for the defendant. However, those protections are not available for the defendant in civil cases. This can be explained by the fact that crimes have greater consequence, such as imprisonment and sometimes, even the death penalty.

In general, criminal cases are considered to be grave offenses, either with serious penalties and/or punishments. Whereas, civil cases are usually much less severe.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to constitute legal advice. It is only meant to educate and inform!

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