Differences Between Civil and Criminal Trials

The types of laws that govern cases depend on the type of offence or crime that has been committed. Civil trails generally revolve around private disputes between organizations or individuals. On the other hand, criminal cases are actions that are considered to be harmful to society overall. Here we discuss the main differences between criminal and civil cases.

Crimes are generally the offenses committed against the state, and they are also prosecuted by the state. Civil trials on the other hand, are the disputes between individuals regarding various legal responsibilities and duties they owe one another and these cases are disputed and fought via civil lawsuits.

Key differences between civil and criminal trials

  • The offence- As mentioned earlier, a crime is considered an offense against society as a whole or even the state. This means, even though one person may be murdered by another person, murder itself is looked upon as an offense to society as a whole. This is also why crimes against the state are specifically prosecuted by the state. In these trials the prosecutor (and not the victim) will file the case in court in the capacity of a representative of the state. On the other hand, if it were a civil case, the wronged party would have filed the case.

  • The punishment– A civil offense and a criminal offense are generally different with reference to their punishment. A criminal trial will have jail time as the possible punishment, whereas a civil trial generally only results in orders to do/ not do a certain thing or even monetary damages. It’s important to note that a criminal trial may involve both monetary punishments (fines) as well as jail time.

  • Standard of proof– This aspect is also very different in a civil trial versus a criminal trial. A crime generally has to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”, while a civil case is proved by much lower standards of proof including – “the preponderance of evidence” (this means it was more likely that something occurred in a specific way). The main difference in these standards exists because civil liabilities are considered far less blameworthy and also because civil law punishments aren’t as severe.

  • The trials– A criminal case almost always allows for a trial by the jury. In some instances even a civil case will allow trial by jury, but most are decided by the judge.

  • Representation by an attorney– A criminal case defendant is entitled to an attorney; if he/she cannot afford to hire one, the state is required to provide an attorney. In comparison, under civil law, a civil case defendant isn’t provided an attorney and would have to pay for one, or else defend themselves.

  • Protections– The protection afforded to a defendant under criminal law are significant (e.g.: protection against illegal seizures and searches under the 4th Amendment). A number of these well-known protections aren’t available under civil law. Because a criminal case has greater consequences with the punishment being the possibility of jail and in some cases even death – a criminal case has far more protections in place and they are also much harder to prove.

Since the standards of proof required in both these types of trials are different, the jury may not find the indicted person guilty under criminal law, but he/she may be found guilty under civil law.

For any civil liability trials, seek the assistance of a civil law specialist like Daniel Cooper. The number to call is (514) 694-0013 [EXT. 224]. You also have the option to schedule a confidential consultation with him via this online form.

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