In criminal law, society in the form of a government brings an action against an individual for wrongful conduct. The purpose of a criminal action is punishment or societal retribution against those who have violated laws. In civil law, one party sues another for monetary damages or some other form of noncriminal relief. The purpose behind most civil law actions is compensation.
An individual’s liberty is at stake in a criminal action brought by a government. In civil law, one party sues another, seeking not confinement but usually monetary damages. For example, State v. Hudson is a hypothetical criminal case where the state brings criminal charges against Hudson. Jones v. Hudson is a hypothetical civil case in which the party named Jones sues the party named Hudson. Criminal law cases are governed by rules of criminal procedure, while civil law cases are governed by the rules of civil procedure.
Perhaps the most important difference between criminal and civil law concerns the different burdens of proof. In a criminal case the prosecution has to prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt a very high standard. In a civil case the normal standard is simply preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not.
- What is a crime?
- Why is legal language sometimes hard to understand?
- If a party loses, what are his or her legal options?
- What are closing arguments
- What are jury instructions?
- What are briefs?
- What are expert witnesses?
- What happens during a trial?
- Are there any limitations on peremptory challenges?
- Are there other limits on who can be dismissed and not selected as jurors?
- Can attorneys challenge certain jurors?
- What happens at the trial process?
- What is a pre-trial conference?
- What are the rules of civil procedure?
- What is summary judgment?
- What happens if a party will not respond to discovery requests?
- What are the common tools of discovery?
- What happens after a plaintiff files a complaint and a defendant files the answer?
- What types of relief do plaintiffs seek?
- What is the document called that starts a lawsuit?