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Top 10 Differences Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases


Top 10 Differences Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases

In the United States, a defendant may be charged with a criminal or civil violation, and there are major differences between criminal cases and civil cases held in a court of law.

Crime vs. Wrongdoing: In criminal cases, the defendant is charged with committing a crime, but in civil cases ,the defendant is accused of committing a wrong against the plaintiff.

Guilt vs. Liability: A prosecutor in a criminal case must establish the defendant’s guilt, but in a civil case, the prosecutor only needs to prove that the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s monetary damages.

The Prosecution of Criminal Cases: The prosecutor is in charge of initiating a criminal case or criminal charge, whereas in a civil case, the victim of the defendant’s action is responsible for filing and initiating a civil suit.

Public Representation: A defendant who cannot afford their own attorney for a criminal case will be provided with the services of a public defender at no cost – but in a civil case no public defender will be appointed; the plaintiff is responsible for all attorney fees.

The Burden of Proof: In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove “beyond a responsible doubt” that the defendant is guilty, but in a civil case, the plaintiff only needs to establish a “preponderance of evidence.”

Fines and Sentencing: A criminal case may result in jail time, a prison sentence, fines, and even an execution, but a civil case can only result in an award for monetary damages; a defendant in a civil case will never be sentenced to a jail or prison sentence if he or she complies with the court’s ruling.

Entitlement to a Jury Trial: A civil case will only lead to a jury trial in rare instances, but a defendant of a criminal case is almost always entitled to a jury trial.

The Right to a Speedy Trial: It can take years before a plaintiff of a civil suit receives a day in court with the defendant, but a defendant of a criminal case has a right to a speedy trial under legal protections that are offered to criminal defendants.

The Right to Remain Silent: A defendant in a criminal case has the right to remain silent when they are questioned by the prosecutor, but a defendant in a civil case is not protected by this right.

Contempt of Court: In civil cases, contempt of court occurs when the defendant does not follow a court order during the proceedings, but in criminal cases, a contempt of court may be issued if the defendant shows a marked lack of respect to the court or attempts to disrupt the court proceedings.

*The information in this article does not constitute legal advice. Please contact a legal professional in your local area for the best up-to-date and accurate legal advice.

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