The differences between civil and criminal litigation can be challenging for a person to wrap their head around, as both categories of cases possess unique features and different procedures. An understanding of both types of litigation can nonetheless be easily reached through an analysis of what each type of case entails.
Criminal litigation involves the government bringing suit against a private defendant for the purpose of proving them guilty of violating a criminal statute. Criminal litigation is unique in that its standard of evidence is particularly stringent; a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, the person or persons being sued, violated a criminal statute. Typically, this occurs after someone is arrested and let out on bail. If you or someone else has just been arrested and needs a bail bonds lawyer to get started, make sure you handle all of those procedures before anything else.
When defendants are successfully convicted of having committed a crime in a court of law, they can face significant legal penalties in the forms of monetary fines or incarceration in a jail or prison. Criminal litigations focus is not on compensating the victims of a supposed crime, but rather to punish violations of criminal statutes.
Civil litigation involves any case between two parties that is not considered criminal litigation, and revolve around monetary or punitive damages, rather than criminal conviction and potential incarceration. Civil cases feature a supposed victim, the plaintiff, bringing suit against a defendant, the supposed perpetrator of a wrong-doing. Plaintiffs in civil litigation face a lower standard of evidence than prosecutors in criminal litigation; A plaintiff need only prove that the defendant is liable for damages by a preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Civil litigation also includes equitable suits, which focus on forcing the defendant, should he or she be found liable of wrongdoing, to either perform or cease performing a specific action. If the defendant in a civil litigation case is found liable, meaning he or she is responsible for significant damages done to the plaintiff, the court will order the defendant to pay restitution to the plaintiff in the form of damages. Damages usually fall into two categories: monetary and punitive.
If the defendant in a civil case is found liable of wrongdoing, they will be ordered to pay either monetary or punitive damages. Monetary damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for the injury they suffered at the hands of the defendant, and often cover such expenses as medical bills or property damages. Punitive damages are more stringent measures taken to ensure that the defendant is punished for their wrongdoings, and are meant to broadly discourage the behavior the defendant was found liable of.
In civil cases, the two feuding legal parties are often encouraged to reach out of court settlements to avoid the expenses of a trial. If an out of court settlement is reached early on, both the plaintiff and defendant may cut their legal cost significantly, and avoid the possibility of a jury reaching an undesirable verdict. The dispute is thus resolved outside of the courtroom, enabling courts to focus their time and attention on more pressing cases.
In criminal cases, the prosecutor may offer the defendant a plea bargain, or a deal in which the defendant pleads guilty to a more minor crime in exchange for having a more serious charge against them dropped. While plea bargains may be rejected by the court, they avoid the hassle and expenses of a long trial, and may be acceptable to both the prosecutor and defendant.