The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Court Cases

The American legal system handles two types of court cases: criminal and civil. While there are similarities between the two, they are very different at heart. In this article, the legal experts at Stewart Law Offices, LLC will break down the two types of court cases and explain what makes them so different.

What is a criminal court case?

Criminal law deals with crime and the legal consequences of criminal offenses. In a criminal court case, the local, state, or federal government acts as the plaintiff on behalf of the people. The person being accused of the crime is the defendant. If found guilty, the defendant may be subject to jail time, monetary fine, community service, probation, or a combination of these things.

It is important to note that it is not the victim’s responsibility to file the case; it is the government’s. This is because crimes are considered to be offenses against society as a whole. Even if one person murders another person, that crime is viewed as an offense to society, not just the victim.
Because criminal cases have greater consequences, they are almost always allowed a trial by jury, and must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What is a civil court case?

Civil law refers to disputes between two individuals or organizations. This happens when one person (the plaintiff) claims that another person or entity (the defendant) has failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff. Common examples of civil cases include landlord/tenant disputes, contract violations, divorce, property damage, and personal injury.

Civil cases can be brought to local, state, or federal courts. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant will usually have to pay some sort of fine to compensate for damages (known as monetary relief), or perform an action to right their wrong (this is called equitable relief).

Civil cases can also allow for trial by jury, but many times these cases will be decided by a judge. Unlike a criminal case, the individual (not the government) acts as the plaintiff, and the defendant is not entitled to an attorney – though they can still choose to pay for one. Civil cases do not need to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but rather as “the preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it is more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way.

Stewart Law Offices, LLC offers legal representation for civil court cases in North Carolina and South Carolina. If you, or someone you love, was injured as the result of someone else’s negligence, contact us online or call 866-783-9278 for a free consultation.

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