Distinguishing Between Criminal & Civil Law

The law is generally divided into criminal and civil matters. While civil matters adjudicate conflict between people, criminal matters involve alleged wrongs committed against society as a whole. This is why in criminal cases the role of the prosecutor is to represent the state or federal government against the defendant who has been accused of committing a crime against the people and who is represented by either a public defender or by private defense counsel.

In criminal matters, the goal sought is to obtain a guilty verdict in which the defendant is sentenced to jail and/or the payment of fines.

Federal and state law divide crimes into two categories of varying severity: misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies are much more serious crimes than misdemeanors, and hence have much harsher sentences.

A crime is an intentional, deliberate or criminally reckless act that causes physical harm to another person or to anthers person’s property such as a theft. In criminal cases the police gather evidence and the prosecution presents its case against the accused. In criminal matters, the prosecutor must convince a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused intentionally committed the crime.

Civil law deals with disputes between private parties. It can be a negligent act (tort) that causes a person harm resulting from another persons carelessness.

Civil law also involves contract and real property disputes. For example, people who disagree over the terms of a contract; the rights of property owners where one person may claim a superior ownership right over another person ownership claims.

Civil disputes also include employment disputes, where, for example, an employee of the company claims he or she has been wrongfully terminated and then brings a civil suit against their employer for breach of the employment agreement.

In civil cases the the person bringing the action is called the plaintiff, the person defending against the allegations, the defendant. The plaintiff has the burden of proving each element of the claim by a “preponderance” of the evidence, meaning the plaintiffs evidence was more convincing then the defendants evidence.

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