There are significant differences in how civil cases and criminal cases are adjudicated.
For starters, civil suits are tort law cases where one private party is claiming they have been a victim of the neglect of another individual. This can be a personal injury situation or a contractual dispute. Contract disputes can be both oral implied agreements and written definitive agreements, complete with signatures and exact language. Civil suits can involve governmental agencies. The plaintiff’s attorney in a civil case is the prosecutor in the tort matter, but if the civil case reveals activity that is against codified law, then the state may still step in and apply the criminal charges. Criminal charges may be brought by an individual, but the case is actually prosecuted by the state or federal government.
Burden of Proof in Civil Cases
The burden of proving guilt in a civil tort case is the duty of the plaintiff’s attorney. However, there is still a major difference in determining the final outcome of the claim.
Civil cases are decided by a “preponderance of the evidence based on a totality of the circumstances” instead of the commonly thought “beyond a reasonable doubt” that is applied in criminal cases. Even though a civil case may be supported by a large amount of evidence, technicalities can still matter when the question is one of reasonable duty of care or intended deceit by the respondent party. Preponderance is generally considered by the legal profession as an easier standard to meet. When a defendant loses a civil case, they do not face jail time but are usually subject to paying a monetary award to the plaintiff, the amount being decided upon by a jury or judge. The amount is often based upon the damages put forth by the plaintiff but the actual award granted can be for more or less than that amount.
Case Remedies for Criminal Charges
Remedies for criminal charges are usually incarceration or a fine, or both, with many times the defendant being placed on probation if it is a first offense.
Certain criminal charges require mandatory jail terms, such as a conviction for driving under the influence, and many times the punishment is severe in terms of a jail sentence. Fines can be extensive as well, depending on the criminal charge. Civil cases are remedied with money in most instances and only result in incarceration when a crime has been committed during the negligent or deceptive act claimed by the plaintiff.
Representation and Court Costs
It is not a requirement for an individual to have a legal representative to file a civil case, as pro se filings are legal. It is also not a requirement for the respondent to have legal counsel unless the civil case also connects to a criminal case that could result in incarceration.
A criminal case representative is not necessarily the legal counsel for a civil suit either because they are legally two separate issues. The tort suit is filed by the victim and the criminal case is filed by the state authorities. The court costs in a criminal case are paid by the convicted defendant, while the court costs in a civil suit are paid by the plaintiff. They are, however, recoverable in the final settlement as determined by the court. All individuals who may face incarceration for a criminal charge are required by the Constitution to have legal representation.
Courtroom Proceedings and Hearings
A final major difference in civil suits and criminal cases is that many civil cases never even make it to court.
The complaint is delivered to the respondent well before the court date and many times the opposing attorneys can work out a settlement before the court hearing. This never happens when criminal charges are pressed. The criminal defendant must be arraigned in an open public court hearing with an appropriate bond arrangement made at that time. All civil suits are settled financially, while criminal charges can result in major fines along with being incarcerated or having the case deferred if the attorney cannot win a dismissal. All criminal defendants also have their sentencing pronounced in an open public hearing after the state attorney proves the charge.
If you are facing criminal charges or a civil suit, contact an attorney. Some attorneys offer a free consultation.