The Difference between Criminal Law and Civil Law

The Difference between Criminal Law and Civil Law

There is no doubt law is a complex subject covering countless topics. We've all seen sensational criminal trials on TV or read about them in the newspaper, so we have gained some knowledge regarding criminal law. There is another branch of law, however, with which many people are not as familiar and that is civil law. At some point in your life, it may become necessary for you to deal with some form of civil law. Eo you know the differences between criminal and civil law?

What is Civil Law?

Civil law deals with the upholding of individual rights. The purpose of a civil law hearing is to determine if those rights were violated. In many cases, there has been no crime committed. If there are criminal charges involved, a separate court will deal with those. The person bringing the lawsuit is the claimant, or the plaintiff, and the person or group accused of wrongdoing is the defendant. The plaintiff must prove wrongdoing by a "preponderance of the evidence". A judge, rarely a jury, normally hears civil cases. The finding can be liable or not liable.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal laws are designed to maintain law and order and to protect society as a whole. In criminal law, charges are brought by a government agency, such as the police or CPS. The government becomes the plaintiff, or the prosecution. When a criminal trial takes place, the purpose is to determine guilt or innocence. In this situation, the prosecution must prove guilt "beyond the shadow of a doubt". A jury nearly always hears a criminal case. The jury must reach a unanimous decision and the defendant can be found guilty or not guilty.

Criminal Law and Civil Law

Difference in Punishments

There is a vast difference in the punishments meted out to people found guilty in a criminal law than the ones given to someone who is found liable in a civil case. If a person is guilty of committing a crime, they can receive a fine, a prison sentence, or in the most serious cases, the death sentence. Crimes are classified in two different categories, misdemeanors, which are lesser offenses, and felonies, the more serious crimes. The punishments given in each category reflect the gravity of the crime.

When someone is found liable in a civil case, they cannot be sent to jail. Execution is certainly never an option. The normal punishment is an order to pay restitution to the wronged party. They could also have to pay punitive damages if their actions were found to be of malicious intent, showed a willful disregard to others or gross negligence.

Obviously, being found guilty in a criminal court of law can have much more serious consequences than a finding of liable in civil court. If you find yourself facing either courtroom, though, it is advisable to retain a lawyer to help you understand the legal complexities involved in your case. Lawyers, not unlike doctors, often choose to specialize in a certain field. If there is an occasion where you need the services of a lawyer, it is best to choose one who concentrates on the branch of law where you need expertise.

More by this Author

  • How to Defend Yourself against Assault Charges

    Assault, according to our judicial system, occurs when an individual intentionally uses force to control another person in a situation where the other person has not consented. Assault can occur in a number of different...

  • Can I Sue for False Arrest?

    If you were arrested or detained by the police or another person and you feel their actions were unjustified, is it possible to sue for false arrest? Under some circumstances, it is. Police misconduct does not always...

  • Falsely Accused of Child Abuse

    It is illegal for anyone to file a false report of child abuse, but unfortunately, it happens everyday. Even though 60% percent of reported abuse cases are false, this offense has the highest conviction rate of all...

Comments 7 comments

Jason Bower 7 years ago

There is also a DVD out there that covers this topic at I have found it to be very very helpful when it came time to fight my case.

seemi 6 years ago

in civil caeses both parties are private individual

while in criminal cases one party is always state.

in civil law object is to cumpensate the injuried party while in criminal law object is to punish the wrongdoer

radiance02 profile image

radiance02 6 years ago

I have a very serious matter currently ongoing in the UK, and it would be useful "just for speculation purposes really" so as to how would the U.S civil court deal with such issues. Please would you visit my issue @

and offer any comment.

Thank you.

Julianne Burkett profile image

Julianne Burkett 3 years ago from Dallas, TX

Very informative. Thank you for sharing!

Christiana 2 years ago

Pefcert shot! Thanks for your post!

Monkey 2 years ago

Damn, I wish I could think of sohnmtieg smart like that!

Justis 2 years ago

It's a pluarese to find someone who can think so clearly

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article