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The differences between civil and criminal cases are not always so cut and dry In a civil case, a private party is bringing a complaint against another private party. The plaintiff will ask the court to award monetary damages against the defendant. This kind of civil case can occur if someone cuts down a tree on someone else’sc property, for instance. But what the judge cannot do is jail the defendant for his actions. Clearly, there are some key differences between criminal and civil cases.

Criminal cases are different. They also remain a source of fascination for the U.S. public According to a recent report by Rasmussen University, from best-selling crime novels from contemporary authors like John Grisham, Vincent Zandri, Troy Lambert, and others, to TV episodes of Law & Order, to true crime shows broadcast on cable, to YouTube Podcasts, there is indeed a real fascination with how the media loves to portray the American criminal legal system.

Audiences the world over are drawn to the suspense, drama, and inevitably to the sometimes rough justice that occurs in the courtroom. Crime junkies love to listen and watch as criminal lawyers do their best to prosecute the guilty and defend the innocent.

But in the real world, fact and fiction are different. That said, how much do you really know about how the U.S. law works? Are you keenly aware of the sometimes subtle differences between criminal and civil law? How exactly do they differ?

Here’s how to recognize the difference between civil and criminal defense cases from the legal experts.

Defining Civil Law vs. Criminal Law

While criminal law is defined as the law of crimes along with their legal punishments, civil law is defined as the law of private or civil rights. Both are said to deal with a wrong that’s committed by one party to another party. However, there are some key differences between civil and criminal law, including the following:


–Who initiates a case

–The conduct in question

–The burden of proof

–Statutes of limitations

–The legal appeals process

This list is by no means all inclusive, but it covers many of the key differences between criminal and civil law.

What is Civil Law?

Simply stated, civil law concerns resolving disputes between one civil or private entity and another. Guidelines for the disputes are said to be outlined in official documents such as a state’s professions and business codes, safety and health codes, and most governmental regulations and rules.

Cause of action in civil cases can be initiated by public and also private parties. They usually result in a cash settlement in one form or another.

What is Criminal Law?

On the other legal hand, criminal law is said to concern itself with an individual’s offenses against the federal or state government. This can include assaulting a government official, but it also more commonly is defined by an offense against the state, which means breaking a law that’s been established by local, state, or federal governments.

In basic terms, the difference between criminal laws and civil laws lies in the statutes and codes that are used in the practice of each. Criminal law, which traditionally deals with offenses like drunk driving, murder, rape, theft, drug dealing, shop lifting, and more is controlled by established penal code. Unlike civil law, all of these offenses should involve jail time if the defendant is convicted.

Punishment of Civil Law vs. Criminal Law

One important distinction between criminal law and civil law is the type of punishment that goes with being found guilty in a court of law. In a criminal case, if an individual who is charged with a crime ends up losing the case, they will more than likely face either prison time or probation. On occasion, they will receive a combination of both plus a monetary fine.

However, in civil cases, the resolution to a court case will not result in the losing defendant going to prison or jail. The more likely outcome is that the judgement will result in a financial penalty, or an order to change one’s behavior.

It’s possible for civil cases to be settled outside a court of law. This usually is accompanied by a substantial cash payment given over to the accuser in exchange for his dropping the suit along with the defendant admitting to no or perhaps limited wrongdoing.

Often criminal cases will become civil cases. If someone murders an innocent man or woman and is found guilty in a court of law and penalized with life behind bars, it’s also possible for the victim’s surviving family to lodge a civil case against the perpetrator in the hope of a significant financial settlement.