Civil vs. criminal cases

Updated April 17, 2017

Civil cases typically involve disputes between private parties. On the other hand, criminal cases involve actions that are considered detrimental to society. In civil cases, the party that claims damages must bring suit, while in criminal cases the state or federal courts bring suit.

Civil Cases

A civil case involves an individual or entity, such as a business or government agency, referred to as the plaintiff, claiming that another individual or entity, known as the defendant, has failed to carry out a legal duty that is owed to the plaintiff and therefore has received some form of damages.

Types of Civil Suits

Civil suits are made when a party commits a non-criminal wrong, known as a tort. Examples of torts include defamation, assault, nuisance, negligence, false imprisonment and trespass.

Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, the defendant has committed a crime. In such cases, the person charged with the crime is prosecuted by the US attorney's office if the defendant was charged with a federal crime, or the state attorney's office for all other crimes. If the defendant is found guilty, she will receive a sentence that may order her to pay a fine, go to prison, and serve the community.

Types of Criminal Suits

Criminal suits are made when an individual commits a crime such as murder, rape, assault, theft, fraud, battery and burglary.

Overlap Between Civil and Criminal Law

In the case of some torts, a civil and a criminal case can be made. For example, assault is both a crime and a tort. Assault is a form of trespass on a person and the plaintiff can sue in order to obtain a remedy for the assault. At the same time, the state in which the assault occurred can also sue the defendant for the crime of assault and remove the defendant’s liberty.

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About the Author

Maxim Berger began writing professionally in May 2009. He works for the credit-rating agency DBRS Inc. as a financial analyst and publishing coordinator. Berger earned a Bachelor of Science in management and international business from New York University Stern School of Business.