What is the difference between civil cases and criminal cases?

It wouldn't make sense for a defendant in a contract dispute

to have the same kind of trial as, say, Jason.

That's why the courts in this country

split cases into two categories--

civil and criminal.

A civil case is when one person, the plaintiff,

brings legal action against another person who

has allegedly wronged them-- the defendant-- with the intent

of collecting damages.

Damages equals money.

A criminal case is where a government prosecutes someone

to prove them guilty of committing a crime,

like a car thief.

The victim of this crime is often

a witness in the government's case against the accused,

as well as any eyewitnesses.

In a civil case, the court can judge

that a defendant owes the plaintiff

money, or other property, or must perform

a service that was promised.

Mostly, though, it's money.

Reimbursement, compensation, or punitive damages.

However, a judge in a civil case cannot send a defendant

to jail, barring a few exceptions,

usually regarding the intentional violation of court


In a criminal case, either the prosecutor or a grand jury

initiates the proceedings.

Punishment for guilty defendants can

range from fines, community service,

or educational classes, to much more serious consequences,

such as jail time.

And anyone, including the defendant,

can be called as a witness in a civil case,

whereas in a criminal case, they cannot be forced to.

Also, criminal cases generally have a higher burden

of proof than civil cases.

This is mainly because a person's freedom is at stake.

Prosecutors have to work that much harder to show guilt.

They must prove that the defendant

is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A plaintiff in a civil case, however,

only needs to prove that they should

win by a preponderance of the evidence.

Preponderance just means the greater amount, or weight,

of the evidence when taking into account

the believability of that evidence.

For more details on the differences between types

of cases, or anything having to do with court in any way,

Legal You is your go-to resource.