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Understanding Criminal Law vs. Civil Law: What Are the Differences and What Are the Similarities?

The law is a complex beast, and there are several strands and subsections of the justice system that it’s useful to get to grips with, even if you aren’t a legal professional yourself.

The main distinction that is handy to learn about is that between criminal law and civil law. To that end, here is an exploration of the main differences and similarities they share.

Lawyers often specialize in either criminal or civil law

It’s totally normal for lawyers to have a specialism in a certain type of law rather than being equipped to take cases of all kinds.

For example, working with a criminal defense attorney from the Jonathan Marshall law office is essential if you are facing criminal charges. Conversely, if you have a civil suit to deal with, then you will need a lawyer who has the training and experience which is relevant to the area in question.

Criminal law applies to serious offenses against individuals and groups

Many types of behavior are defined as criminal under US law, including everything from DUIs and data theft to arson and murder.

You can be charged under criminal law if your offenses are perpetrated against an individual, or against entire groups, up to and including the state itself.

Indeed it is only the state which has the ability to initiate a criminal case, and outcomes are generally determined by a jury vote overseen by a judge.

Civil cases involve private parties

An individual or a business can bring a civil case to bear for injurious behaviors carried out against them. Offenses covered by civil law include things like defamation, property damage, and negligence in the workplace.

More often than not, a judge alone will decide the verdict of a civil case, and while criminal convictions are only allowable if guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a less hefty need for a preponderance of evidence to sway the judge in either direction where civil breaches are concerned.

Punishments overlap

A general distinction between criminal and civil cases is that the former can be punished by imprisonment, fines, or both, while the latter is usually settled through financial means.

Whatever the case, cash is almost certainly going to change hands, depending on how the judgment falls and whether the defendant is deemed to be guilty.

Criminal and civil charges can coexist

The laws for offenses covered by criminal and civil legislation do indeed cover the same ground in many areas, and so you could find that charges for each arise from the same original illegal act.

The most obvious instance of this comes down to the crossover between murder and wrongful death. The former is a criminal offense, while the latter is a civil one, and this means you could avoid being found guilty once, only to be charged and convicted on a different angle. This is why getting the right lawyer for the job is so important, as mentioned earlier.

Settlements are encouraged

Civil cases which end up in court tend to do so as a last resort, as trials are both costly and time-consuming. Thus the role of a judge can be one of mediator, to an extent, and the parties involved are generally advised to work towards a mutually agreeable settlement if possible.

While criminal cases can avoid court if the defendant confesses or accepts some form of a plea bargain, these are more frequently put before a judge and jury, especially in the case where the state is the plaintiff.

There are many more things to find out about criminal and civil law, but hopefully, you’ve now got enough of a grounding to fuel your own additional research.