The Differences Between a Civil Case and a Criminal Case

In the American legal system, there are two types of cases: civil and criminal. Civil cases typically involved disputes between two or more parties about the legal duties and responsibilities they owe each other. Criminal cases involve offenses committed against the state.

The key differences between a civil case and a criminal case include:

Bringing suit. Crimes against the state are prosecuted by a state prosecutor who acts as a representative of the state or federal government. In civil cases, individuals or organizations file suit against others when legal obligations have not been fulfilled.

Punishment. The punishments for criminal and civil offenses are usually quite different. Individuals convicted of a crime typically face time in prison as punishment. Individuals who lose a civil case typically have to pay a judgment and/or alter their behavior. Some crimes involve both jail time and monetary punishment.

Proof. The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the standard of proof is lower, and is usually based on “the preponderance of evidence” which means that the facts of the case decide the outcome.

Jury. Criminal cases are almost always tried before a jury. Civil cases may also be tried before a jury, but many are decided by judges.

Legal representation. Criminal defendants are guaranteed a right to legal counsel. If they cannot afford an attorney, the state will provide one for them. In civil cases, both parties must pay for their own legal representation or represent themselves.

Protections. Criminal defendants are guaranteed certain protections by the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to not incriminate themselves, the right to face their accusers and to be protected against illegal searches and seizures. These protections are not available to defendants in a civil case.

Whether you are facing a serious federal white-collar prosecution, a state murder charge, or misdemeanor charges, The Cogdell Law Firm has the experience, knowledge and reputation you want for your legal team. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or