Most people don’t differentiate between civil law and criminal law, partly because the majority of news coverage in the media is dedicated to criminal law cases. Most people have heard of a civil lawsuit, but they aren’t really sure how the two are different. Civil cases aren’t as widely publicized because they don’t ever have the same dramatic punch that often comes with a big criminal case.
It may come as a surprise to many people just how different the two types of suits are – here are some of the biggest differences between criminal and civil law cases.
The Verdict and Subsequent Ruling
This is the major reason why criminal cases are so much more publicized and advertised in the media. The defendant in a criminal case runs much more of a risk – a guilty verdict can bring with it several different forms of punishment depending upon the severity of the crime committed.
Crimes are broken down into two sub categories – first are the felonies, which are the larger offenses and which will most likely result in more severe punishments. Second are misdemeanors, which are the smaller offenses and will likely yield sentences that are not quite as harsh.
A person charged with first degree murder, which is the top of the ladder as far as felonies are concerned, could receive life in prison without parole – or even the death penalty depending upon the state in which the crime was committed. Lesser felony offenses may still yield large amounts of jail time, depending upon the nature of the crime; whether there was pre-meditation, or if the person has been involved in similar criminal activity before.
Misdemeanor charges with convictions often result in one of or a combination of the following – fines, probation, community service and in some cases jail time. Again depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, the punishment may be either more or less severe.
The defendants involved in a civil case will never, under any circumstances – regardless of the crime charged, be subject to the same forms of punishment as those convicted in criminal cases. In fact, regardless of the nature of the crime committed defendants convicted in civil cases will never do any time in prison. Defendants who are on the losing side of the verdict in a civil case are often responsible to reimburse the plaintiff or plaintiffs of the case in an amount determined by the judge or jury to be comparable to the loss that they may have suffered due directly as a result of the defendants actions. The actual monetary amount awarded in the verdicts of these cases is often hard to come to, especially in cases when more than just property is lost or damaged as a result of the defendant’s actions.
Making the Case
In a criminal case, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. It’s is the responsibility of the side of the plaintiff to build a case that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did, in fact commit the crime in question. If the defense can inject even the smallest shadow of doubt on the plaintiffs case the verdict in the case will (or should) return not guilty. If the jury is not very close to one hundred percent certain that the defendant committed the crime in question, then there is no conviction.
The proof required to get the desired verdict in a civil case is not nearly as high as that of a criminal case. If the plaintiff can initially convince the jury that it’s reasonably possible that the defendant is responsible, the burden for proving their innocence falls on the defense. If the evidence shows more than fifty percent probability that the defendant is responsible a guilty verdict can be returned and the defendant then becomes responsible for reparations.
Even if the defendant is convicted of the charges and ordered to pay, it still doesn’t mean that the plaintiff will receive a financial windfall as a result of the conviction. Often if the defendant has nothing to give, then the plaintiff won’t receive the judgment awarded.
Even if the charges are exactly the same, the results and subsequent penalties handed down can be drastically different in criminal cases and civil cases. Civil cases, while not nearly as dramatic to the media as criminal cases and even when a sum can’t be awarded, can provide true closure for the plaintiff if the defendant is convicted.