Criminal and Civil Law Cases Are Different

Mar 22, 2009

Not a lot of people truly appreciate the differences between a civil and a criminal case. This is largely due to the fact that most of the cases making the media, or are portrayed on TV, are criminal cases.

Very few civil cases, with the possible exception of some of the big headliners recently, garner much interest simply because they are not as juicy as a criminal case. Big criminal cases often have a following of “groupies” that will show up in droves at a courtroom so they may watch the drama unfold.

While you might think the cases aren’t that different, in actuality, they are quite diverse. Verdicts and rulings are areas in which you will see a significant difference. Defendants in criminal trials have a lot of things at stake, not the least of which may be their freedom. Criminal trials may also result in some serious types of punishment.

With crimes there are two categories, the felonies (with severe punishments) and the misdemeanors (less severe punishments.) For instance, first-degree murder may receive life without parole or death, depending on which state the crime was committed, etc. On the other hand, generally speaking, misdemeanor charges may result in fines, probation, community service, and/or jail time, etc.

In civil cases, the question isn’t so much culpability, but liability. These cases deal mostly with issues involving personal injury, contract disputes, real estate squabbles, and divorces. The plaintiff sues the defendant to complain of a wrong that was done to them.

In a civil case, the plaintiff is responsible to build a case to show a civil wrong. Getting a verdict in a civil case doesn’t require meeting the same high standards as criminal cases. In civil cases, all the plaintiff has to do is convince the jury it was reasonably possible the defendant was responsible for the complaint. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove they are innocent.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences between civil and criminal proceedings, but if you wish to know more, feel free to research it online.

Daniel Wannamaker is a board certified criminal law specialist and has 24 years of criminal trial experience with proven results as a Dallas criminal defense lawyer practicing in Austin criminal defense and Houston Texas. To learn more, visit

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