What Is The Difference Between A Civil Case And Criminal Case?

Legal disputes can take any form; sometimes, they are mere disagreements between neighbors, while other times, they may be serious issues like theft or assault. The legal system of The United States sorts all such situations that can be divided into two broad categories: civil and criminal cases. Let’s find the difference between both.

Civil Case

Civil cases are legal disputes between individuals or organizations that typically involve issues related to property rights, contracts, or civil wrongs.

Criminal Case

A criminal case, on the other hand, is a legal proceeding. The government employs a prosecutor who charges an individual with the crime. Typically, these cases start after the person is arrested and informed of their charges. In a criminal case, the defendant is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Civil Case vs. Criminal Case – The Difference

Some factual differences include:

Parties and Nature of the Case

If the dispute involves individuals or organizations, the case falls under civil law. The plaintiff files a lawsuit against the defendant to seek compensation, contract enforcement, or resolution of a civil wrongdoing.

On the other hand, a criminal lawsuit involves the government, either at the state or federal level. In such cases, the charges are against an individual for violating criminal laws established to protect the general public.

Burden of Proof

Another significant difference between a civil and criminal case is the burden of proof required to establish the guilty party.

Civil cases rely on the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This term means that the plaintiff must present evidence that convinces the judge or jury that it is more likely (greater than 50% probability) that the defendant party is liable for the alleged harm.

On the other hand, criminal lawsuits have a standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” where the prosecution carries the burden of proof to convince the judge/jury that the defendant is guilty. This is achievable through strong evidence, such that it becomes certain that there is no doubt about their guilt.


The penalties in both civil and criminal cases differ as well. In the former, the end result usually involves monetary damages. On the flip side, a criminal case can result in penalties such as fines, probation, community service time, or incarceration.

Rights of the Defendant and Legal Protections

Criminal defendants have constitutional rights that make sure that their trial is fair and that there is no chance of abuses of power by the government. These rights include:

  • Innocence until proven guilty
  • The right to legal representation
  • The right to confront witnesses
  • Protection against self-incrimination

While the defendants in civil cases do have the opportunity to present their defense, they lack the same level of constitutional protection.

Overlap of Cases

You may not realize it but a lot of times a single action leads to both civil and criminal charges, such as a car accident. The plaintiff can start a civil lawsuit for damages and criminal charges for reckless driving.

Closing Note

If you find yourself in a situation where you need legal guidance, our skilled attorneys at Edwards Sutarwalla Samani LLP are here to help. Our teams are led by experts such as George Edwards III, a founder and partner with extensive experience in civil rights. He, along with our other skilled lawyers, can provide you with legal advice and representation where needed. Do not hesitate to contact us at (713) 565-1353 to schedule a consultation.



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