How Do Criminal and Civil Charges Differ?

There are two bodies of law in the United States whose purpose is to deter or punish wrongdoings or to compensate victims of wrongdoing. Criminal law deals with charges that are or can be considered as an offense against an individual, the state, the public, or society.

Examples of criminal charges are:

  • Murder
  • Assault
  • Burglary and theft
  • DUI

Civil law deals, on the other hand, deals with behavior that involves an injury to an individual or another private party, such as a business or corporation. Examples are:

  • Negligence resulting in injury or death
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Breach of contract
  • Property damage

Criminal law and civil law differ concerning how cases are initiated, meaning who may bring charges or file a suit. They also differ in whether cases are decided by a judge or a jury. What kind of penalty or punishment may be ordered, what standards of proof are required, and what type of legal protections may be available to the defendant all differ between criminal and civil cases.

In criminal cases:

Only a state or the federal government (the prosecution) can initiate a case, and those cases are almost always decided by a jury.
Punishment for criminal charges often includes incarceration, but can also include a fine paid to the government.
For the prosecution to obtain a conviction, they must establish that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Defendants are protected against conduct by prosecutors or officers of the law that violates their constitutional rights, such as the right against compelled self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment) and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment).

In civil cases:

Suits and cases are filed by a private party known as the plaintiff.
Cases are usually decided by a judge, although some significant cases may involve juries.
Punishment is almost always a monetary award and never a term of imprisonment.
To win, the plaintiff must establish the defendant’s liability according to the “preponderance of evidence.”
Defendants are not afforded the same legal protections as those with criminal charges.

Notably, a single wrongdoing can constitute both a public offense and a private injury and may result in both criminal and civil charges. For example, a defendant might be acquitted of murder charges, but later be found liable for the killing in a civil suit for wrongful death.

Do You Need Help Defending A Personal Injury Claim?

You may need personal injury defense legal advice if you are the at-fault party in a motor vehicle accident. Or, perhaps you’re the owner of a building where an injury occurred from a slip or fall accident. Or, maybe you’re a healthcare professional being sued for medical malpractice. In these and many more circumstances, a personal injury defense lawyer can help.

A personal injury defense lawyer in your local area can help you challenge physical or non-physical injury claims. They may be able to decrease or eliminate the amount of monetary payout for which you may be liable. They can represent you and fight to protect your best interests and preserve your rights.

Don’t lose out because of inadequate personal injury defense. Contact an attorney today and set up a consultation to find out how they can help in your unique circumstances.