Understanding the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Court

If you are considering a personal injury claim against a party who has injured you, you may have some questions. Many people are unsure and quisitive about the civil side of the law. While many have undoubtedly seen television dramas and movies depicting gripping criminal trials, few have experienced the essence of the civil trial. There are many similarities, as well as many differences, associated with the civil trial. You should be familiar with the basics of a civil trial before you take your next step.

  • Parties: A civil trial involves private citizens. With limited exceptions, one cannot sue the government. A civil trial will involve a plaintiff, the person raising the claim, and a defendant, the person/party whom the plaintiff believes is responsible for the harm. There are no prosecutors involved in the action.
  • Evidentiary Standard: A civil trial has a much lower threshold of culpability than a criminal trial. Since a criminal trial runs the defendant the risk of losing his life or liberty, the trier of fact must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense attorney in a criminal trial has offered alternative theories to the extent that jurors are left with doubt as to whether he is actually guilty, the law requires the defendant to be found innocent. This is not the case within a civil trial. The jury simply must find that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the injury. This lower standard is implemented under the reasoning that the defendant has much less to lose in a civil trial. Although, this is not always the case as civil jury verdicts in the billions of dollars have been upheld .
  • Juries: Much the same as in a criminal trial, a jury will be empanelled at the behest of the defendant. However, while a jury is a federal constitutional right in a criminal trial, this is not always the case in a civil trial. State statutes usually provide guidelines for when a civil defendant is entitled to a jury and when he is not. If you are entitled to a jury for your case, you and your personal injury lawyer will decide together whether a jury is in your best interest.
  • Witnesses: Witnesses are called in a civil trial just like in a criminal trial. With limited exceptions, character evidence is not admissible against a defendant in a civil trial the way it is in a criminal trial. The civil courts are not designed to punish defendants or make judgments on their character. They are designed simply to adjudicate the facts and render a verdict to make the plaintiff whole again.

If you are considering a personal injury action, give us a call today. There are many more facets to a civil trial beyond what is listed here in this article. Our attorneys here at Ledger Law can explain all your rights and many more.