The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Cases

If you have been injured and think you may have a personal injury case or another type of legal issue, you may have questions about your case and the legal system in general. One important question is, what is the difference between criminal cases and civil cases? This is a good question, and there are several key distinctions to understand.

Types of Charges

Criminal cases are usually cases that involve someone committing a felony or a misdemeanor. These offenses are crimes against the state, and the state has the ability to charge and prosecute someone for them. Civil cases are usually disagreements between people or parties about property, legal duty, or responsibility. These types of cases are typically resolved with restoration, rather than punishment. A personal injury case is considered a civil case.

Types of Punishments

The type of punishment is different between criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, punishment could include fines, probation, and jail time. The purpose of punishment in criminal court is to keep society safe from violence and threats, as well as deter future crime by punishing those who are responsible by serving time or paying fines. For civil cases, the defendant cannot be held criminally responsible, and therefore, cannot serve jail time. The punishment in civil cases is compensating for damages that were done.

Who Charges

Crimes that are committed are charged and prosecuted by the state. When someone commits a felony, such as robbery, the robbery is considered to be a crime against the state and society. Therefore, a prosecutor charges the individual on behalf of the state. On the other hand, civil cases are filed by the individual who suffered damages, injuries, or loss. This individual is the plaintiff who brings the case to the court, and the defendant is the person who is allegedly responsible for the loss. In criminal cases, it is the prosecutor who files charges and in civil cases, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to file charges and prove that the defendant is at fault.

Standard of Proof

The standard for proof is also very different. The standard of proof for criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the prosecutor must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant committed the crime charged without any doubt. The standard is so high in these cases because the consequences of a criminal record and punishments are so severe. This standard attempts to leave as little room for false conviction as possible. The standard of proof for civil cases is “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the alleged offense.

Right to Counsel

The right to an attorney differs between the two cases. In criminal cases, everyone who is charged for a crime is entitled to an attorney that they can hire themselves. If the person cannot afford to hire an attorney, the state is required to provide them one. In civil cases, neither the plaintiff, nor the defendant are entitled to an attorney. Both sides are responsible for hiring their own attorney.


In criminal cases, many of the protections given to the defendant by the Constitution are not afforded to the defendant in civil cases. For example, defendants in civil cases are not afforded the rights to representation or the protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.


Hopefully these differences may give some clarification on criminal and civil cases. Even if you understand these differences, you should still consult an attorney if you are facing legal issues of criminal cases or civil cases. You do not want to wait a long period of time after the incident to take action. The sooner you contact an attorney, the better it may be for your case. Taking action sooner than later can also help you because it may mean that you get assistance paying medical bills and expenses faster.

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