What are the differences between civil and criminal cases?

by Albert T. Brown Jr., Lawyer Referral Service

Most civil cases involve a claim for the recovery of money or specific property due from one person to another. Many civil cases arise out of conduct which is also criminal, subject to criminal prosecution.  However, the criminal court system is designed to punish persons for breaking the law and not designed to work as a collection system for automobile accidents, dishonored checks, or the infliction of physical injury.  The civil and criminal systems are each governed by separate Rules of Procedure, which are materially different in many respects.

Very few lawyers defend people charged with crime and handle the prosecution or defense of a civil matter.

In a civil case your lawyer represents you and describes and presents the claim and the evidence supporting it.  In a civil case, the existence of a duty, the breach of that duty, causation of damages, and damages need only be proved by the greater weight of the evidence.

In the criminal case, a public employee – the prosecutor – presents the evidence to the court who determines the existence of guilt for the violation of a specific criminal law, or innocence.   In a criminal case, the state or prosecutor must prove each and all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  The penalties provided in the criminal system are fines (payable to the government); imprisonment; and ultimately execution.

In the civil system the successful claimant may recover damages from the defendant which are payable to the claimant which may be collected from the defendant until or unless discharged in Bankruptcy.

If a civil defendant has no funds or assets, then collection does not occur.

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