How is a Civil Case Different from a Criminal Case?
In the legal world, there are many different types of cases and claims. Often, different types of claims proceed in different types of courts. In Texas, a majority of claims can be categorized as either criminal or civil matters. What are the differences between these two types of claims?
One of the biggest types of differences between civil matters and criminal cases is the penalty an individual may face at the end of the case. At the end of a civil claim, the defendant may be forced to pay damages to the plaintiff. There is no possibility of jail or prison time in a civil claim. However, it is possible that the damages ordered in a civil case are significant—in some especially large civil claims, such as those against large corporations—the damages ordered may be millions of dollars.
In criminal cases, the defendant may face jail or prison time, in addition to being ordered to pay fines or restitution. The defendant may also be ordered to complete a certain amount of community service. The penalties vary depending on the crime committed, the defendant’s criminal record, and a number of other factors. Another difference is how these cases are filed: civil cases are filed by individuals or entities, whereas criminal charges are filed by the government. Because crimes are considered an offense against all of society, it follows that these charges are filed by the government. Civil offenses, in contrast, generally only affect private individuals or businesses.
The burdens of proof are also different in civil and criminal claims. Civil cases require the claimant to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. Criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The preponderance of the evidence standard requires a plaintiff to show that more than 50 percent of the evidence is in favor of his claims against the defendant. However, the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt requires the government to show that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime—that the judge and jury could not reach any other conclusion. Because a defendant in a criminal case is facing jail or prison time, the burden of proof is much higher.
The right to an attorney also only applies in a criminal case. If a criminal defendant cannot afford an attorney, he or she may be able to have one appointed. Public defenders are criminal defense attorneys who work for the government and represent individuals who cannot afford an attorney on their own. However, if someone in a civil case cannot afford an attorney, that individual may have to proceed as a pro se litigant and represent himself or herself in court.
The implications of a civil lawsuit and a criminal charge are also quite different. Someone found guilty of a crime may have to go to prison and carry the label “convicted felon.” Convicted felons often have a difficult time obtaining employment after their release, and they are barred from voting and owning firearms. In a civil case, a judgment may be entered against the defendant’s property, but the defendant’s legal rights are usually not affected.
If you are in need of legal advice, contact experienced Denton criminal defense attorney today
Denton criminal defense attorney Brent D. Bowen takes pride in representing clients throughout Texas in an array of legal matters. With experience as an assistant district and county attorney, prosecuting dozens of crimes, attorney Bowen possesses unique insight into the criminal justice system. To schedule your free consultation, call (940) 222-2488 or contact our firm online.