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What is the Difference between Civil and Criminal Law?

What is the Difference between Civil and Criminal Law?

The United States legal system typically operates under two types of law — civil and criminal. A civil law case is treated much differently than a criminal law case, and vice versa. To start with, criminal actions are complaints brought by the state or federal government on behalf of the people against parties accused of violating the law. This means even though one person might kill another, murder is considered a crime to everyone in society. Civil actions, on the other hand, are non-criminal actions involving private rights and compensations.

Other differences include:

  • In criminal law, the act that caused harm is a “crime.” In civil law, the act that caused harm is a “tort.”
  • Criminal cases usually have jail as punishment. Civil cases usually result in monetary damages.
  • Criminal cases utilize a trial by jury. Civil cases are usually decided by a judge.
  • In a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A civil case has a lower standard of proof, called a “preponderance of evidence.”
  • Defendants in criminal cases are permitted an attorney, and if they can’t afford, the state provides one. Defendants in civil cases are not given an attorney, and must pay for their own or defend themselves.

Because so much is at stake during a criminal trial, criminal cases have much more stringent protections in place and are more difficult to prove. If you are accused of a crime, you should retain an Indiana criminal defense lawyer immediately to ensure your rights are protected.

Even though criminal and civil cases are treated differently, sometimes the same act can result in both criminal and civil liability. A well-known example of this is the O.J. Simpson trial. After a criminal trial failed to find Simpson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil jury found him guilty of wrongful death by a preponderance of evidence. An Indiana criminal defense attorney can answer any questions you have about the criminal law process.

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