Difference between Civil Law & Criminal Law

We often hear the words ‘Criminal Law’ more than Civil Law in our day-to-day life. The media is also more often covering criminal cases in its news channels or articles compared to civil cases. We even observe this trend in movies and TV series, where criminal’s acts and their case investigation are more popular as story plots. Because of this the general perception of people is that every law offense is a criminal act. However American legal system consists of two types of law – Civil and Criminal, and these two laws are having some very specific differences.

Civil law mainly covers the individual complaints, in which the crime affects the individual rather than the society. On the other hand criminal law mainly deals with the society more than the individual and they are more serious crimes.

Civil law ensures rights of the individual and the individual may get compensation according to the crime done against the victim. Criminal law ensures to maintain the law and order, to protect society and serious punishments are given to the wrong doers.

Let’s dig a little deeper into both laws and try to understand them.

What is Civil Law?

According to Legal Dictionary civil law is the set of rules, regulations and legal remedies which are defined to protect individual rights, which are related to contracts, torts, property or family problems. The rights and duties of persons amongst themselves is the primary concern of civil law. Civil Law punishment mainly consists of compensation to injury or any other issue rather than punishment of imprisonment. In civil law the punishment may also depend on the previous similar cases.

Let’s explore a little deeper into the different areas that civil law covers.

Contract Law

Contract law is a part of law that is related to exchange of goods, services, properties, or money. According to contract law, an agreement made between two or more people or business entities, in which there is a promise to do something in return for a gain or advantage, is legally binding. Contract is the center of many business dealings, and anyone entering into a contract that fails to follow the contract, even by mistake, could result in legal problems.

Tort Law

Tort Law are the set of rules which are made to help individuals who have suffered harm by the unreasonable acts of another. It is an area of law that administer the wrongful actions of an individual or entity, which cause injury to another individuals property, or reputation, and which entitle the injured party to compensation.

When someone’s actions cause some type of harm to another, whether it is physical harm to another person, or harm to someone’s property or reputation, the harmed or injured person or entity may seek compensation accordingly through the court.

Property Law

As the name suggest it is set of rules that administer the law related to personal property or real property. Personal property relates to tangible, such as jewelry, animals, and merchandise, or intangible such as patents, copyrights, stocks, and bonds. Real property refers to land; apartment and/or anything built on it that cannot be easily removed, as well as anything under the surface of the land, such as oil and minerals.

Family Law

Family law deals with the set of rules which administer family problems such as divorce, annulment, child custody, adoption, birth, child support, and any other issues affecting families. Family law mainly deals with the law that solves issues regarding divorce, in which after divorce rules are set such as property distribution, financial support after divorce, child custody etc. Some newer rules are also set for same-sex marriage, artificial conception, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, and palimony.

Who wins the case and on what basis?

In most civil cases, the judge has to make a decision about which side wins based on a standard called “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the winner’s side is more probably true than not true. It does not mean that one side brought more evidence than the other side. It means that one side’s evidence was more convincing than the other’s.

In some cases, the standard for reaching a decision is “clear and convincing evidence.” This means that the winner needs to prove that his version of the facts is truer. It is an intermediate degree of proof, more than “preponderance of the evidence” but less than the certainty required proving an issue beyond a reasonable doubt.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal Law are a set of rules which administer the rules which when broken by a person can be punished to imprison and also can be convicted to death penalty. This rules are define to address public welfare than that of individual loss. According to Legal Dictionary a criminal law is the area of local, state, and federal law that defines criminal acts and offenses, governs the arrest, detention, charging, and prosecution of accused offenders, and sets specific punishments.

In criminal case the criminal is punished to partial imprisonment or also lifetime imprisonment and in some cases depending on the severity of crime the person is also punished to death penalty.

A crime is an unlawful act of a person which affects the society or a community. In instances where individual fails to follow the rules and law made by the government or court, he or she commits a criminal act by breaking the law. This body of laws is different from civil law, because criminal law penalties involve losing of one’s rights and imprisonment. Conversely, civil laws relate more to legal controversies and involve money damages.

Types of Criminal Law

There are two types of criminal laws: misdemeanors and felonies.

A misdemeanor is an offense that is considered lower level criminal offense, such as minor assaults, traffic offenses, or petty thefts. Moreover, in most cases, the penalty for the misdemeanor crime is typically one year or less.

In contrast, felony crimes involve more serious offenses. Some examples of felonies include murder, manslaughter, drug crimes, rape, robbery, and arson. Every state in the U.S., felonies carry a penalty of one year or more, depending upon the particular nature of the offense and the jurisdiction where the felony crime was committed. In addition, every state has a different body of criminal laws which vary from state to state.

What is crime and how can it be proved?

A crime is something a person does on purpose, knowingly, or recklessly that is against the law. An act is “purposefully” done when the person has a conscious intention to engage in the act, or to bring about a certain result. The crime is not the result of a mistake, or an act coerced by another person. An action is “reckless” when the perpetrator knows it carries an uncalled-for risk for harm to another, yet consciously disregards that risk.

The prosecutor has to prove that the act has occurred and the person involved has done the act purposefully/intentionally/knowingly which is reckless. The courts may assume criminal intention from certain facts of the case which would show any reasonable person to make the same assumption. For example, the intent to commit armed robbery may be assumed by the defendant’s possession of a mask and gun, as long as the items coincide in some way with the robbery or attempted robbery.

“In Criminal law the case is filed by a government body such as police and not by the individual.”

When someone has been charged with a crime, he/she has a right to be representation by an attorney. A criminal defense lawyer is one who specializes in criminal defense, and has experience in dealing with the prosecutor’s office, as well as in criminal trials. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Gary A. Modafferi may handle a wide spectrum of criminal case types, such as white collar crimes which include Identity theft, Mortgage Fraud, Embezzlement and computer crimes, etc as well as violent crimes, murder and sex crimes, etc. A criminal lawyer may also be involved in handling complex criminal cases related to Constitutional Law issues like death penalty defense, lifetime supervision, search and seizure issues, etc.

According to Nevada Trial Court Statistics the below graph will provide you some info on the number of criminal vs civil cases filed for the past three years in Nevada court.

Bar graph representation

A quick comparison table between Civil law and Criminal law:

Basis for Comparison Civil Law Criminal Law
Definition It is a set rules which helps to protect individual person rights. It is a set rules which helps to protect the society or community.
Affected to Individual person Society or people community
Deals with It deals with any harm or violation to individual rights. It deals with the acts which law defines as offences.
Can be filed by Individual person Government body such as police
Actions Sue Prosecute
Outcome Remedy Punishment
Punishments by court The person has to pay penalty/compensation Imprisonment, fine, discharge.
Consequence Defendant is liable or not liable Defendant is guilty or not guilty

Final Words

Whether you’re facing a civil or criminal law case, it is a must to get legal advice as soon as possible. An experience and reliable lawyer can help you whether you’ve been accused of a crime, are facing a civil lawsuit or want to start a compensation claim.

Law Offices of Gary A. Modafferi assists clients in a wide range of criminal cases. If you need our help, please don’t hesitate to contact us online or call on 702-327-3033.

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