Differences Between Criminal and Civil Litigation

By Brock Benjamin
Founding Attorney

Litigation refers to the court process of handling legal disputes. In the U.S., our legal system is divided into two central types of litigation: civil and criminal. Both types are in place to address wrongdoings committed by other people, but there are several important differences between criminal and civil litigation.

What are the differences between criminal and civil litigation?

Litigation in both the criminal and civil context happen in order to address some type of wrong committed by someone else. Even if there is an immediate person who has been harmed due to criminal activity, criminal litigation generally happens when an offense is committed against the state. That is why crimes are prosecuted by the state. Engaging in criminal activity is asserted to be in direct opposition to state interests and the laws that the government has put in pace. On the other side of things, civil litigation usually involves a dispute between individuals concerning legal rights and responsibilities they owe each other.

It is important to note that some type of conduct can result in both civil and criminal litigation. So, there is some overlap. There are, however, going to be some major differences in the civil and criminal cases, even if triggered by the same type of conduct. For instance, there will be a difference in who brings the case to court. In a civil case, the injured party, the “plaintiff,” will file suite asserting a violation of rights committed by the defendant. In a criminal case, the prosecutor, on behalf of the state, will file the court case alleging that the defendant violated the law.

The results in a civil case and a criminal case will usually differ greatly. In a civil case, the plaintiff requests that the court order the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for the harm incurred by paying out damages. In the alternative, the plaintiff may ask the court to order the defendant to do something or stop doing something. In a criminal case, however, a defendant found to be guilty of the crime alleged will be sentenced by the court to jail time, probate, pay fines, or some other form of punishment. Civil cases look to compensate the plaintiff for a legal wrongdoing. Criminal cases look to punish the defendant.

Another central difference between criminal and civil litigation is the standard of proof in these different types of cases. In a civil case, a plaintiff carries the burden of proving his or her case by “a preponderance of the evidence.” In a criminal case, the state must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Because of the consequences of criminal liability, including restrictions on individual freedoms, criminal cases involve the highest standard of proof in the U.S. legal system.

Civil Litigation and Criminal Defense Attorney

At Benjamin Law Firm, we proficiently handle both civil litigation and criminal defense matters. We stand up for your rights in either case and always fight for your best interests. Contact us today.

About the Author
Brock Benjamin is board-certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  His practice is primarily state and federal criminal law and appeals.Brock 

Posted in: Criminal Defense