Three Differences between Criminal Law and Civil Law


Justice Studies is a broad field that offers many career options. You may be interested in a career as a criminal or civil lawyer if you are pursuing a Justice Studies degree. Both of these options provide rewarding careers that allow you to make positive impacts in your community.

1. Definitions

The criminal laws that apply to crimes at all levels of the criminal justice system (local, state, and federal) define and punish criminal activity and provide legal penalties for those convicted. The criminal court system can handle only criminal law cases.

Civil laws, however, deal with individuals’ privacy rights. When an individual’s rights are violated or individuals have disputes about other people or organizations, civil laws will be applied. Some civil matters can be handled outside of a court of law, for example through a third party mediator. A non-criminal trial may also be an option.

2. Burden of proof

There are different standards for civil and criminal courts. A criminal court can either find the defendant innocent or acquit him. The state or federal government must prove that the defendant committed the crime.

In a civil court, a plaintiff brings a lawsuit against a defendant. Plaintiffs have to prove that the defendant is responsible. A jury can decide whether a defendant is guilty or liable.

3. Legal Penalties

A judge sentences a defendant convicted by a jury in a criminal case. The judge must follow the sentencing guidelines of current criminal law. The judge is allowed to exercise some discretion within the sentencing guidelines. A criminal case can result in fines, probation or incarceration.

A jury can order a defendant to pay financial compensation to the plaintiff if they are found guilty in a civil case. Compensation can be granted for quantifiable losses, such as medical bills or personal losses like pain and suffering. Sometimes, additional punitive damages may be awarded by a jury.

Brian Santiago

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