If you're facing civil or criminal charges, you have a lot to think about as you prepare your case. Foremost are the specifics of how your case will proceed. There are significant differences between civil and criminal cases. You'll face different consequences, burdens of proof, and courtroom experiences. Exploring the particulars of each type of case will give you a better understanding of what's ahead if you or someone you know is involved in a criminal or civil case.
The Purpose of the Case
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One of the clearest differences between civil and criminal law is the underlying purpose of the case. When you consider what the desired outcome is for a case, you can usually determine whether you're dealing with civil or criminal charges.
In a civil case, the objective is to make the wrongdoer provide restitution for what he or she has done. The individual isn't punished personally. Rather, they're compelled to repair or provide compensation for what's been done.
In a criminal case, the objective is to punish the individual. The prosecutor will attempt to sentence the wrongdoer in a way that will personally punish him or her and satisfy the public's sense of wrongdoing. Criminal defendants are punished with incarceration, fines, or, in extreme cases, the death penalty.
The Burden of Proof
In any legal case, one must prove that the defendant is guilty before he or she can be sentenced. In a civil case, the plaintiff typically has to prove that the defendant is guilty of wrongdoing. If there's more than a 50 percent chance that the defendant caused the plaintiff's injury, the plaintiff wins.
The state carries the burden of proving the case when you're dealing with criminal law. The defendant is assumed innocent and doesn't have to prove anything. The burden of proof is much heavier in a criminal case. The state must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is often taken to mean 98 to 99 percent certainty.
Presence of the Jury
In most cases, no jury is present in a civil case. In some states, the defendant has the right to request a trial before a jury. However, in the vast majority of instances, a civil case is tried by a judge who will determine the verdict. A jury is always present for criminal cases. It's the jury who is charged with convicting the defendant. The members of the jury must reach a unanimous agreement to pass a guilty verdict.
Types of Cases
While there are many charges that one can face in a civil or criminal case, a quick overview of some of the more common cases will give you a better idea of what you'll find in each classification.
Common examples of civil cases include:
- Property disputes
- Personal injury cases
- Landlord/tenant disputes
Criminal cases include:
Regardless of the type of case you're dealing with, it's important to secure the services of an attorney. Lawyers specialize in a particular type of case, so determine what you're facing and get a civil or criminal attorney on your side to help you with the next steps in the process.