3 Major Differences Between Criminal and Civil Law

Civil law and criminal law are two distinct branches of the legal system that regulate different types of behavior. Civil law regulates the private rights of individuals, while criminal law regulates the conduct of individuals to protect the public. Civil litigation is a legal action between individuals to resolve a civil dispute, while criminal prosecution is when the government prosecutes a defendant to punish illegal conduct. Criminal laws at the local, state, and federal levels define criminal activities and establish legal punishments for people convicted of crimes such as arson, assault, and robbery.

Criminal law cases are only conducted through the criminal court system, while civil laws deal with the private rights of individuals. Civil laws apply when a person's rights have been violated or when people have disputes with other people or organizations. Some civil law matters are dealt with outside a court of law, for example, through an external mediator. Alternatively, lawsuits can be resolved through a non-criminal trial.

There is a significant difference in the appeals process for civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, either party can appeal a judgment. In criminal cases, only the defendant can appeal the decision, and for good reason. The “Double Incrimination Clause” of the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from the threat of a retrial after an acquittal.

Without it, the government could, in theory, subject a person to a continuous series of trials for the same crime until it receives a favorable verdict.

Understanding the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Law

Civil cases usually involve disputes between individuals or organizations, while criminal cases allege a violation of criminal law. Both civil and criminal cases consider violations of people's rights and who is at fault. However, they differ in structure, burden of proof and penalties. In criminal law, the rule is that defendants are guilty of committing a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

A civil offense, on the other hand, is often more like someone who doesn't follow the municipal code who doesn't clear snow from a sidewalk, causing someone to slip and be injured, for example. If you are planning to pursue a degree in Justice Studies, you may be interested in focusing on a career in criminal or civil law. Since the rules or laws that are violated vary between civil and criminal law, the specific conduct in question also differs. While this is an excellent example of how the broader standard for who can file a lawsuit in a civil case can have drawbacks, it should be noted that many states have adopted laws to help curb this practice.

Since there is much more at stake for a defendant in a criminal case than between two parties in a civil case, the judicial system also includes safeguards to protect the rights of the accused. Criminal defense lawyers strive to reduce the credibility of the evidence and witnesses presented in order to create reasonable doubts among jurors. In civil matters, all that is needed is a preponderance of evidence showing a greater than 50 percent probability that one party is at fault. It is important to note that since a single wrongful act can constitute both a public crime and a private harm, it can result in criminal and civil charges.

Civil law deals with behavior that constitutes an injury to a person or other private party, such as a corporation. Another important distinction between civil and criminal law is the type of penalty paid for being found guilty.


In conclusion, there are several major differences between civil and criminal law that must be taken into consideration when deciding which type of legal action to pursue. Criminal law deals with behavior that violates public laws and carries harsher penalties than those imposed by civil law.

Civil law deals with disputes between individuals or organizations over private rights or obligations and usually involves monetary damages as compensation for any wrongs committed. It is important to understand these differences before deciding which type of legal action to pursue.

Leave Reply

Required fields are marked *