Criminal Lawyer Dekalb County GA

3 Differences Between a Criminal Case and Civil Case

The justice system in the United States is extremely complex, and thus can be very confusing for those without legal experience. From the copious paperwork, to finding the right DC personal injury lawyer with sound qualifications, our legal system can be quite overwhelming. To help break down our legal system, we categorize it into two basic elements: criminal and civil court. These entities are similar in that they are both run under state and/or federal guidelines. But these two court systems are also very different, serving different functions and having a variety of distinctions. There are three major differences between a criminal case and a civil case:


1) Means of Punishment

There’s a variety of punishments that may occur in criminal cases, such as jail time and government fines or penalties. Guilty parties may also have to follow certain requirements at the risk of facing jail time, or might instead be placed on probation. Charges are classified as felonies or misdemeanors; misdemeanors are less serious, whereas felonies are more severe.

Unlike criminal cases, defendants do not face the risk of jail time in civil cases; instead, they usually pay monetary damages to compensate the victim with financial resources. Also, courts may call for punitive damages if the defendant acted with malice or intent, as these damages require a lot more money from the defendant.


2) Proving Fault

The burden of proof falls upon the plaintiff in the majority of criminal cases. From the court’s perspective, defendants are presumed innocent until the opposing party demonstrates enough evidence – beyond a reasonable doubt – to overturn that assumption. While it may be challenging to determine the threshold for reasonable doubt, the burden is intended to be substantial. However, this heavy burden does have some exceptions, such as claims involving self-defense.

Courts analyze the preponderance of evidence in civil cases. This means that more than half of the plaintiff’s evidence proves or demonstrates that the defendant is at fault.


3) Suits versus Charges

The defendant is brought to court by a government entity, federal or state, in criminal cases. On the other hand, individuals, businesses, or other non-government entities can bring a suit against a defendant in civil cases. Interestingly, an event might be considered to be both civil and criminal. For example, a defendant who murdered someone will face criminal charges, but this defendant might also face a wrongful death suit to compensate the victim’s family for the loss of a loved one.

While criminal charges can only be brought by a government entity, other individuals might play a part in these events. For example, if a victim does not want to press criminal charges, a governmental entity may also decline to press criminal charges, but this victim cannot prevent the government from pressing charges if the government wishes to do so.


If you are faced with a civil or criminal case, it will likely be beneficial to seek legal representation. An experienced attorney can help determine your best course of action, so contact a legal professional today.


Thanks to our friends and contributors at Cohen and Cohen, P.C., for their insight into the difference between civil and criminal defense.