Thursday, September 29, 2016
Civil Law versus Criminal Law
What are they and what is the difference?
In the United States, our court system handles both civil and criminal cases. The litigation procedure for the two vary quite differently from each other. These two terms are often tossed around, by advertisers, the print and television media, and by those giving others advice when they need the services of the court.
Therefore, understanding the difference between the two can be helpful, while making both terms clear and defined.
The rules of civil litigation, or civil procedure, only apply if civil laws are involved. Civil laws deal with private disputes between private individuals or parties. Likewise, it is helpful to understand that the term individual in the legal arena, does not necessarily mean the same thing as when it is used in every day conversation. By statute (law), the term individual can include firms, labor organizations, partnerships, associations, corporations, legal representatives, and trustees. If two disputing private parties cannot agree upon something, than litigation begins and a lawsuit is filed.
Examples of civil litigation include: contracts, real estate, commercial and business transactions, divorce and family disputes, estate disputes, and something called torts. Tort law is probably the reason you are visiting this blog. Tort law includes civil injuries or wrong doings that one party is seeking compensation for from the other. The most common example of tort law is cases of negligence. Of all civil law, tort cases are by far the most common and numerous.
A good example of civil tort law is this: Jerrick is shopping at a local grocery store when he slips and falls from a puddle of water, created by a leaking freezer case. When he hits the ground, he is seriously injured. The store knew about the leaking freezer for a few weeks, but has done nothing to fix it or warn their guests about the hazard. Jerrick requests that the grocery store pay for his medical bills and lost wages for the time he had to take off work. They refuse. With no other option, Jerrick files a lawsuit against the grocery store so that the court can decide whether or not they are required to pay him compensation. In this lawsuit, Jerrick can ask for financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages (both past and future), for pain and suffering, and for other damages. This case is possible because of negligence tort laws that exist in this country.
Criminal law, in contrast with civil law, deals with offenses and wrong doings that are against society as a whole, rather than a private individual. Criminal law includes areas like murder, rape, burglary, drunk driving, assault, and theft. When a criminal case is brought before a court, it is always between some government and the person. This is most often recognized in the form of, “the State of Florida vs. John Doe.” In this situation, the state is taking legal action against a person on behalf of its citizens. This is governed by the laws of criminal procedure.
It is not often thought about, but the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights plays a major role in the way criminal law cases take place. Individuals have rights when it comes to criminal cases, like the right to not testify against oneself (self-incrimination), the right to a speedy trial (due process), and the right to be represented by an attorney.
The reason that the Bill of Rights is mentioned here is because all these laws only apply to criminal—and not civil—law.
Where They Intersect
As you might imagine, it is possible for the same act to result both in criminal action and a civil dispute. For example, if someone crashes into another person while driving drunk, they may find both a criminal and civil action against them. This is because the act of driving while intoxicated is illegal, and thus, a criminal action. The fact that their actions were intentional, meaning they chose to drink and drive, and injured someone means that a civil lawsuit can be brought against them.
In this situation, the case of the injured versus the drunk driver would be handled according to civil procedure. The case of the state versus the drunk driver would be handled according to criminal procedure. When this type of thing happens—someone is tried both civilly and criminally—the two cases are always kept separate. This is because the burden of proof is different for both cases, being that the burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than it is in a civil case.
In addition to the actions taken and the burden of proof, the two types of law are also handled very different by the courts. There are some things that are similar, like terms used (plaintiff and defendant), but there are also very different documents, proceedings, and remedies for the two types. For example, there is no need for a demand letter in a criminal case (there is nothing to demand from the accused). Likewise, in a civil case, there is no need for a bail hearing, since no one is going to jail for the incident.
Dolman Law Group
At Dolman Law Group in Clearwater, Florida, we want you to be as informed as possible when going through a tough time, like an accident or injury. The last thing you need is someone trying to conceal information or talk over your head. This is why at Dolman Law, we have staff members solely dedicated to providing our clients with free, continuous information. Every day we put out articles on our blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to keep our clients and potential clients as informed as possible. If you have any legal questions, check out our FAQ section, our Legal Glossary, or the thousands of blog posts at your disposal.
And of course, if you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to someone else’s negligence, give us a call. We are happy to help. Our attorneys are qualified, experienced, and dedicated to providing the Tampa Bay-Clearwater area with the best representation possible. Do not go at it alone. Put a reputable, experienced law firm like Dolman Law Group to work for you today. Contact us at (727) 451-6900 to speak with an actual attorney. Feel free to look around our page and the internet to get to know us. We look forward to hearing from you.