The Ways that the Civil Justice System Differs from the Criminal Justice System
Suppose you have been in a motor vehicle accident, caused by a person who was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. That person, known as the defendant, may face criminal charges for DUI/DWI. You also have the right to file a personal injury complaint in civil court. What are the differences between the two proceedings? What is your involvement in each process?
The Parties Will Typically Be Different
The first significant difference between the two proceedings involves the parties. In a criminal prosecution, the legal action is always brought by the government. It may be the state, the federal government or even a local municipality. Unlike a civil lawsuit, where the person bringing the legal action is referred to as the “plaintiff,” the governmental body is commonly called the “prosecution.” The attorneys for the government are government employees (often elected officials) known as prosecutors, prosecuting attorneys, district attorneys or U.S. attorneys. The party against whom a criminal action is filed is most often a private individual, but it may also be a commercial entity.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the party bringing the lawsuit is known as the “plaintiff.” The plaintiff may be a business, a private individual or a governmental entity. The defendant may also be a business, a private individual or a governmental entity.
The Subject Matter of the Legal Action
In a criminal prosecution, the issue to be determined by the judge and jury is whether the defendant violated a criminal statute. In fact, the source of all criminal violations is statutory law, comprised of written laws enacted by a legislative body.
In a personal injury claim, the judge and jury seek to determine whether the defendant committed a “tort.” Torts are generally defined by the common law, taken from the opinions of judges on earlier cases with similar fact situations. There are a few personal injury claims that are based on the concept of “strict liability,” where the wrong is set forth in a statute. But the civil courts generally look at the common law for guidance.
The Penalties for Conviction or Liability
In the criminal justice system, a person will be found “guilty” if there’s sufficient evidence to convince a jury. If convicted, a person may face fines (payable to the state), incarceration, community service, restitution (payable to the victim) and, in some states, even death.
The primary form of relief in a personal injury claim is the payment of damages, or monetary compensation for the plaintiff’s loss. There are limited circumstances, generally in breach of contract claims, where the court may compel a party to do something other than pay compensation, but that doesn’t happen in personal injury cases.
The Burden of Proof
In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof—it must provide the necessary evidence to convince the jury to convict. In order to obtain a conviction, the evidence must support guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (generally considered to be about 90% certainty).
In a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury claim, the plaintiff must produce evidence of liability. However, the burden of proof is generally “a preponderance of the evidence,” or simply the greater weight of the evidence. In a personal injury lawsuit, then, the plaintiff must typically show only that his or her version of the facts is more believable than the defendant’s version.
Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers at Bailey & Galyen
At the law offices of Bailey & Galyen, we have extensive experience protecting the rights of people who have suffered any type of personal injury. We will be your voice in all legal proceedings, as well as any dealings with workers’ compensation insurance companies, so we can maximize the amount recovered for your losses. contact us by e-mail or 844-402-2992 call our offices at one of the convenient locations listed below. Our phones are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.