Civil Vs. Criminal: 3 Key Differences

2 December 2015
 Categories: , Blog

When it comes to navigating out country's legal system, it can be difficult for some people to determine what separates a civil case from a criminal case. In order to ensure that you are prepared to battle whatever legal troubles you might be faced with in the future, here are three key differences to keep in mind when it comes to civil and criminal court cases.

1. Representation

One of the major differences between a civil case and a criminal case is the right of each party to representation. While most citizens know that the constitution guarantees that they are entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one, some people fail to realize that this civil liberty applies only to criminal cases.

If you are sued in a civil court, you will need to either represent yourself, or hire an attorney to represent your interests in court. Understanding that only criminal allegations guarantee you the right to an attorney can help you weigh your options when it comes to legal representation in the future.

2. Burden of Proof

Another major difference between criminal and civil cases is the burden of proof required to prove one's innocence or guilt. In a civil case, the burden of proof is known as a preponderance of the evidence. This means that jurors or a judge don't base their decision on the amount of proof a party is able to provide, but rather on which party's proof is more reliable or accurate.

The burden of proof for a criminal case is much stricter. In order to prove guilt or innocence, a criminal attorney must be able to provide proof that leaves no reasonable doubt in the mind of jurors or a judge. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof to which any party can be held liable, and is reserved solely for criminal proceedings.

3. Punishment

The punishments that can be levied against the guilty party differ based on whether a case is civil or criminal. If the potential punishment involves loss of liberty through imprisonment, then the case is criminal in nature.

Parties found guilty in civil cases are typically punished through the levying of fines or community service requirements. Evaluating the potential punishment is a simple way to differentiate between civil and criminal cases.

Understanding the differences between a civil and a criminal case will help you determine when you might need the services of a qualified criminal attorney like one from Alexander & Associates, P.C. in the future.