Distinguishing Criminal Cases in the Legal System
At The Law Office of Monte J. Robbins, Esq., we believe that understanding the essentials of the legal system is crucial for every individual. It is important to recognize the distinct differences between the two primary categories of court cases: criminal and civil law. Here's a concise breakdown of what characterizes a criminal case:
Criminal cases emerge when the state, through a prosecutor, seeks to sanction someone for an act deemed criminal by legislative bodies. Contrarily, civil cases typically revolve around conflicts regarding the rights and responsibilities that individuals and entities are bound by in law. The principal distinctions between criminal and civil proceedings include:
- In a criminal trial, it is the prosecutor – representing state authority, not the victim – who initiates and steers the prosecution. It is within the prosecutor's purview to press or drop charges irrespective of the victim's wishes. Contrast this with civil disputes where the aggrieved individual instigates the legal action. However, if one perceives the prosecutor as a proxy for the community harmed by the crime, the difference here isn't as stark as it seems.
- A guilty verdict in a criminal case can result in fines, incarceration, or both. In civil judgments, the accountable party may be ordered to compensate through financial payments or relinquishing property but isn't subject to imprisonment. The concept of "debtors' prisons" for failure to fulfill a civil judgment is obsolete.
- Defendants who cannot afford legal representation in criminal cases are provided with attorneys at the government's expense. Civil case litigants, however, often have to either self-represent or hire their own legal counsel, with a few exceptions such as juvenile court cases and particular instances of civil contempt that might involve incarceration.
- The burden of proof in criminal trials requires the prosecutor to establish the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," a higher evidentiary standard than in civil cases. In civil matters, the plaintiff must prove the defendant's liability based on a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true.
- While defendants in criminal cases are nearly always eligible for a jury trial, civil claimants are entitled to a jury in certain case types, but not across the board.
It's important to note that certain behaviors may breach both criminal and civil statutes. One might face criminal prosecution by the government and simultaneously confront a civil lawsuit for monetary relief from the victim. The notorious 1995 situation involving O. J. Simpson exemplifies this: he was acquitted in criminal court for murder charges, yet found "liable" in a civil trial for wrongful death, thereby incurring a substantial monetary judgment.
Should you have questions or require legal representation in a criminal case, The Law Office of Monte J. Robbins, Esq. stands ready to bring clarity to your legal journey and to protect your rights vehemently. Reach out to us at 303-355-5148 for legal counsel.