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Differences Between a Civil And a Criminal Case

by | Aug 18, 2021 | Criminal Charges, Criminal Defense, Russell Spatz |

In the United States, the legal system acknowledges two bodies of law: civil cases and criminal cases. The former is filed by a private party, which usually is an individual or a corporation, against another private party, where they dispute legal duties and responsibilities they owe to one another. The latter are usually offenses against the state and are accordingly prosecuted by the state. 

Both bodies of law can involve a trial, and the presence of a jury and judge. However, in the majority of states, there are distinct civil and criminal litigation judges. There are also multiple other differences between them that are important for individuals to understand.

Civil Cases

These kinds of cases happen when an individual or entity (called the plaintiff) claims that another entity or person (the defendant) failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff may seek for the defendant to fulfill said duty, or compensate for the harm done. 

Civil cases can be brought to state and federal courts, depending on where both parties are, or where the legal duty was ought to happen. 

An example of a civil case would be if a business agreed upon a contract to supply material to another business for an agreed-upon price and then fails to deliver said material. The affected business that did not receive what the contract established would then be forced to buy the material elsewhere at a higher price. This business might sue the supplier to pay the extra costs incurred. The costs incurred are also known as “damages”. In this example, if the parties were from different states, the suit could be brought in federal court. 

Some other examples include defamation, property damage, negligence resulting in injury or death, and breach of contract. 

Criminal Cases

When someone is accused of a crime, they are usually charged with a formal accusation called an indictment (for felonies) or information (for misdemeanors). As mentioned previously, these cases happen when an offense is against the state or the community. Therefore, the government, on behalf of the United States, prosecutes the case. The prosecution occurs through a state´s attorney´s office if it´s a state crime, and through the United States Attorney´s Office if the person is charged with a federal crime. 

Unlike civil cases, the victim is not responsible to bring a criminal case. The government would prosecute the offender and the victim (if there´s one), would not be a party to the action. 

One of the greatest distinctions from civil cases is existence of “standard of proof” in criminal cases, meaning a jury must be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” of the defendant’s guilt. 

When an individual is found guilty of a crime, he or she will receive a punishment, which may be a fine or incarceration. 

Some examples of criminal offenses include kidnapping, rape, arson, DUI, homicide, and theft crimes, to name a few. 

Can An Act Result In a Civil Case And a Criminal Case? 

Despite being different, a civil case can happen alongside a criminal case when the incidents were results of the same offense. For example, an individual who was driving under the influence kills a pedestrian. In this scenario, the driver may be charged with a DUI and manslaughter, which are criminal charges. However, the family of the victim may file a civil suit for wrongful death, and seek a monetary settlement for expenses regarding the victim´s involvement in the incident. 


An allegation of a criminal offense should be handled by an attorney who has the knowledge to protect a defendant’s rights. Criminal defense lawyer Russell Spatz of the Spatz Law Firm, PL has over 40 years of experience handling criminal cases.  Call 305-442-0200 to schedule a meeting and get guidance on your specific legal issue. 

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