Civil Vs. Criminal Law
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Glosssary

civil law
Law based upon a published code of statutes, as opposed to law found in the decisions of courts. Body of law that determines private rights and liabilities, as distinguished from criminal law.

criminal law
Branch of the that specifies what conduct constitutes crime and establishes appropriate punishments for such conduct.

litigation
A legal action; a lawsuit.

plaintiff
A person who brings a lawsuit.

defendant
The person against whom an action is brought.


civil procedure
The rules of procedure by which private rights are enforced; the rules by which civil actions are governed.


criminal procedure
The rules of procedures by which criminal prosecutions are governed.

burden of proof
The duty of establishing the truth of the matter; the duty of proving a fact that is in dispute. In most instances the burden of proof, like the burden of going forward, shifts from one side to the other during the course of a trial as the case progresses and evidence is introduced by each side.

preponderance of evidence
The degree of proof reequired in most civil actions. It means that the greater weight and value of the credible evidence, taken as a whole. belongs to one side in a lawsuit rather to the other side. In other words, the party whose evidence is more convincing has a "preponderance of evidence" on its side and must, as a matter of law, prevail in the lawsuit because it has met its burden of proof.

prima facie case
A cause of action or defence that is sufficiently established by a party's evidence to justify a verdict in his or her favor, provided that the other party does not rebut that evedence; a case supported by sufficient evidence to justify its submission to the trier of fact and the rendition of a compatible verdict.

clear and convincing evidence
A degree of proof required in some of civil cases, higher than the usual standard of preponderance of evidence.

beyond a reasonable doubt
The degree of proof required to convict a person of a crime. A reasonable doubt is a fair doubt based upon reason and common sense, not an arbitrary or possible doubt. To convict a criminal defendant, a jury must be persuaded of his or her guilt to a level beyond "apparently" or "probably". Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest level of proof that law requires.

Civil Law and Criminal Law are two broad categories of law with distinct differences.

Civil Law determines private rights and liabilities, whereas Criminal Law concerns offenses against the authority of the state.

Litigation is simply another term for a lawsuit, which is a dispute between two or more parties regarding civil or criminal law issues. Civil law involves disputes between private parties and defines legal rights and obligations between them. Civil litigation is the process of resolving private disputes through the court system. Unless the parties privately resolve their dispute, the litigation usually results in a trial, or hearing, where the parties present their evidence to a judge or jury. The judge or jury then decides the dispute.

Not all cases that involve litigation are considered civil litigation. Our court system is designed to handle both civil and criminal cases. Criminal law defines conduct prohibited by legislative bodies, which also presccribes the punishments for violations.

Parties in Civil Litigation and Criminal Actions
The parties to a civil lawsuit include the plaintiff, the defendant, and possibly third parties.

The plaintiff is the party that has allegedly suffered some legal wrong at the hands of the defendant, the party responsible for infringing upon the plaintiff's rights. The plaintiff files a lawsuit against the defendant, using the courts as the forum to argue that the defendant should be held responsible for the plaintiff's injuries and should compensate the plaintiff for its losses.

The parties in a criminal lawsuit are different from those in a civil action. In criminal cases, the public, through the authority of the statee (or, if federal, the United States), brings the accused criminal (the defendant) to court to determine his or her guilt or innocence. Of course, masses of citizens do not actually haul defendants bodily into the courtromm. Instead, the government provides the special officer, called the prosecutor or district attorney in many localities, who files criminal charges against the defendant on the public's behalf. At the state level, this official might be called the attorney general; at the federal tier, he or she would be the United States Attorney serving the Department of Justice under the United States Attorney General.

Criminal lawsuits differ from their civil counterparts in that criminal prosecutions are intended to convict and punish the criminal offender, whereas civil lawsuits are designed to settle disputes between private parties. In criminal actions, the convicted defendant may be punished by imprisonment, or fined by the government. In civil suits, however, the defendant who losses judgment to the plaintiff, must compensate the plaintiff directly.

Civil and Criminal Procedure
Civil litigation, which deals with private disputes between parties, is subject to the rules of civil litigation, sometimes referred to as civil procedure. Criminal cases, which deal with acts that are offenses against society as a whole, such as murder and robbery, as subject to the rules for criminal law, which are also known as the rules of criminal procedure.

Sometimes the same act results in both a civil and a criminal action. For example, suppose that Ann Smith drives her car while under the influence of alcohol. As a result, she crushes into another vehicle and injures the driver of that car, John Watson. Ann Smith would be arrested for the crime of drunk driving, but John Watson might also sue civilly. The civil case (Watson vs. Smith) will proceed according to the rules of civil procedure.

The criminal case, the government (in this case the state) would file an action against Ann Smith for the crime of drunk driving. If she were found guilty, the court could sentence her to jail or impose a fine payable to the state. In the civil case, John Watson would sue Ann Smith for money to compensate him for his medical bills, his lost wages, and his pain and suffering.

Although, the same act may spawn both a civil and a criminal case, the two legal cases are always kept separate. They will never be tried together. In part, this is because a different standard or burden of proof is required in criminal case. The standard of evidence used to judge the criminal case is higher than the standard applied in civil cases.

Burden of Proof in Civil and Criminal Law
Civil and crminal law may be further distinguished in terms of burdens of proof. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff's case must be proved by a preponderance of evidence, meaning that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury that his or her version of the facts is more likely than not and that he or she is entitled to judgment. This degree of proof is sometimes called presenting a prima facie case, or "crossing the 51 percent line", because the plaintiff must outprove the defendant by more than half the evidence.

In certain cases, such as those involving fraud, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and probate contests, the plaintiff must prove his or her case by clear and convincing evidence, which is a higher standard and more difficult to meet that a mere preponderance.

By contrast, in a criminal lawsut the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that judge or jury must believe the defendant's guilt without significant reservations. This burden of proof is much more difficult than either of the proof levels required in civil cases. This heavier burden on the government exists to protect defendants from overzealous prosecutors who might succeed in convicting innocent individuals with less evidence if the proof requirements were easier to satisfy.

 
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