There are different crimes that take place in the country; some of which are civil and others are criminal. Both types have their own share of punishments because the victim is either at a financial loss or is someone who has been injured or harmed physically.
According to the nature of the crime, the punishment is given to the accused and they have to compensate for the loss they’ve incurred in the society. Let’s get into details to see how civil law charges differ from criminal law charges.
Table of Contents
Civil laws deal with disputes and conflicts between people and organizations, where the plaintiff has suffered some sort of loss at the hands of the defendant. The private relations between members of the community are resolved under the civil law.
Types of Civil Law
There are usually five types of common civil law cases that are heard in the courts today, these are dealt in the civil court to make sure that justice is served.
Contract Disputes: These occur when one or more parties who signed a contract cannot or will not fulfill their obligations. Occasionally, this is due to ambiguity in the contract or when one party fails to pay the money they owe in the contract.
Property Disputes: Property law involves disputes about property ownership and damages to one person’s property or real estate. There are many different types of property disputes that a civil litigation attorney may handle. One common one is property line disputes, in which one party alleges that a neighbor crossed the property line boundary between their two homes for building or planting.
Torts: A tort is a civil case in which one party alleges that another caused them physical or emotional harm. Tort cases can take many different forms, and can relate to a person’s personal safety, safety of their property, and financial security. Common torts related to accidents and injury include assault or battery cases, and negligence cases in which one alleges that a caregiver did not do their assigned duty.
Class Action Cases: Class action cases are similar to tort cases, only the prosecution in these cases represents a group or class of people who have all been injured by the same thing. These are common in cases of defective products or exposure to hazardous materials in which the faulty item injured multiple people before it was recalled.
Complaints Against the City: Complaints against the city or federal government are generally settled out of court, but if the government refuses to settle, the complaints are generally tried as civil cases. These cases can be brought in any case where the plaintiff alleges that city law or policy has caused harm to its citizens.
Civil Law Examples
One of the biggest recorded examples of civil law cases was Liebeck v McDonald’s in 1995, when 79 year old Stella Liebeck purchased a hot coffee from Mcdonald’s while in the car with her grandson. She opened the lid to mix the creamery when the coffee spilt on her, leaving deep tissue burns that led to surgeries and severe pains.
She filed a civil lawsuit against McDonald’s under the torts of strict liability and negligence. The case became controversial because she was suing the restaurant over their coffee being too hot. The verdict was given that the plaintiff had suffered severe pain, surgeries, loss of income and pleasure and the defendant’s product- coffee- was too hot to drink. This constituted breach of implied warranty that the product was safe to use.
Another example is of the sexual harassment civil class action lawsuit of Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. in 1997. It was filed in 1988 on behalf of Lois Jenson and other female workers at the EVTAC mine in Eveleth, Minnesota on the state’s northern Mesabi Range, which is part of the Iron Range. She claimed that she and other female employees were constant victims of sexual harassment, abuse, threats, stalking and intimidation.
The case moved forward slowly; with Jensen leaving the mine and was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after. The case moved forward quickly then when it moved to trial. The trial’s decision was appealed and reversed, and another trial was set. In 1998, just before the case moved on to trial, fifteen women settled with Eveleth Mines for a total of $3.5 million. This case was the first class action lawsuit against women sexual harassment in workplaces, and created new set of boundaries against discrimination in the corporate sector.
Criminal law deals with criminal activities that happen under the eyes of the law; crimes can be any that harm the innocent either mentally, physically, emotionally or sexually, and these are all punishable by law.
Common examples of criminal law are robbery, theft, murder, kidnapping, rape, assault and battery etc. These cases are dealt in the criminal courts and are fought to make the criminal pay. The punishment is through incarceration, death sentencing or rehabilitation.
Criminal Law Case
One very old case of 1855 was reported in Missouri, State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave which was a case where a black slave girl, Celia was accused of murdering her owner, Robert Newsom. The case was opened when she confessed that she had in fact killed her because he had raped her, and made her pregnant numerous times over the course of five years. Even after begging Newsom to leave her alone, he wouldn’t do so and continued to rape her every night when the rest of the family went to sleep.
One night Celia attacked him with a stick to defend herself and killed him. She then spent the night crushing his bones and burning his body. The case was sent to trial where she was convicted of first degree murder by a jury of twelve white men, and was hanged in the December of 1855.
Difference between Civil and Criminal Law Table
Criminal law and civil law differ greatly when it comes to punishment and charges. In a criminal law, the criminal is charged with incarceration and imprisonment for at least 6 months if it is a misdemeanor, and upto lifetime sentencing if it’s a higher degree crime. Moreover, for first degree murders and crimes, there is also a death sentence too.
In civil law cases, the defendant has to pay or compensate the plaintiff in monetary ways for the misfortune and inconvenience their crime has caused them. A criminal lawsuit is of course of a stricter nature than a civil lawsuit, and has stricter punishment too.
|Definition||Civil law deals with the disputes between individuals, organizations, or between the two, in which compensation is awarded to the victim.||Criminal law is the body of law that deals with crime and the legal punishment of criminal offenses.|
|Burden of proof:||“Preponderance of evidence” The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. One must produce evidence beyond the balance of probabilities.||“Beyond a reasonable doubt”: Burden of proof is always on the state/government.|
|Examples:||Landlord/tenant disputes, divorce proceedings, child custody proceedings, property disputes, personal injury, etc.||Theft, assault, robbery, trafficking in controlled substances, murder, etc.|
|Type of punishment:||Civil litigation usually involves some type of compensation for injuries or damages as well as disposition of property and other disputes.||A guilty defendant is punished by incarceration and/or fines, or in exceptional cases, the death penalty. Crimes are divided into two broad classes: Felonies and Misdemeanors.|
|Case filed by:||Private party||Government/State|
|Appeal:||Either Party||Only Defendant|
|Jury||See state laws, doesn’t have to be unanimous||Unanimous Decision|
Note: Sample table has been extracted online, courtesy of LawShelf.
Terms used in Civil Law and Criminal Law
The same terms are used differently for civil law cases and criminal law cases.
|Civil Law||Criminal Law|
|Plaintiff/Claimant (England and Wales) / Appellant||Prosecutor/ Complainant|
|Ordered to||Sentenced to|
|Balance of probabilities||Beyond a reasonable doubt|
|To sue/ bring an action against||To prosecute/bring a case against|
Criminal lawsuits and civil law cases are both dealt in the judicial branch of the government; where judges decide verdicts in courts and make sure the criminal is rightfully punished. Where criminal lawsuits are about a criminal activity, civil lawsuits solve disputes among people, entities and organizations.
Punishments for a criminal lawsuit are more severe with years or even a lifetime in prison or a death sentence for first degree murder. For civil lawsuits, cases like torts and contract breach are very common, and their punishment is usually heavy fines. Both types are considered crimes and are punished in courts.