Civil Lawsuits vs. Criminal Lawsuits: What’s the Difference?

Courthouse – Civil or Criminal Cases


One of the most confusing parts about the legal system is understanding the difference between civil cases and criminal cases.

Which circumstances qualify for civil lawsuits, and which are considered criminal lawsuits? What are some other differences you should know about?

To help clarify the differences between civil and criminal lawsuits, we offer you a brief overview of these two legal areas.

Civil Lawsuit

In a civil case, you have a dispute between two people, or two parties, around a certain issue. One party decides to sue the other, and the liability and amount of damages is determined by the jury.

If the civil lawsuit proceeds in a California court, then the party who brought the suit needs to prove that something is more likely to be true than not true. The burden of proof, in this case, is lighter than in a criminal case.

If one party is found to be at fault, then the court may order that party to pay money to the other party. The court can also order the guilty party to fulfill an obligation, such as honoring an agreement.

Criminal Lawsuit

In a criminal case, the crime is considered to be an act against society rather than an individual or party. Instead of a person or party bringing the case, the government brings legal action against the person who committed a crime.

In California, the burden of proof for criminal lawsuits is more significant than in civil cases. The prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the defendant is found guilty, then he or she may have to serve time in jail or prison, be placed on probation, or pay a fine.

For More Information

In both civil and criminal lawsuits, there are varying degrees of seriousness. The different types of civil cases and criminal cases can tell you more about each area of the law.

If you have more detailed questions about these practice areas, you can get a lawyer referral from the San Diego Lawyer Referral and Information Service.

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