In the United States, the number of court cases being filed is on the rise. in 2019 alone, civil case filings went up by 3%, while criminal case filings increased by 11%.
If you’re lucky enough to have never been involved in a court case, you might not understand the difference between a criminal case vs civil case.
But, if you or a loved one someday finds yourself thrown into the middle of a court case, you need to be aware of what to expect during the process depending on the type of case.
Hopefully, that day will never come, but if it does, you can feel a little more prepared thanks to this guide.
Keep reading to learn about the differences between a criminal case and a civil case, when you can be charged with both types, and how to choose the best lawyer if you need legal assistance.
What Is a Criminal Case?
Are you a sucker for television shows that cover crimes and court proceedings? You’re not alone! After all, who hasn’t spent a day watching a Law & Order marathon?
Most often, the types of crimes covered in shows like that are criminal cases. That’s to say that they’re the types of crimes in which a person has committed an act against the government, community, or state.
In a criminal case, if the accused commits a state crime, they’ll face prosecution from the state’s attorney office. In more serious cases of committing a federal crime, the prosecution comes from the US Attorney’s Office.
Essentially, in a criminal case, the victim is not the one who is responsible for bringing a criminal case to court.
Types of Criminal Cases
There are a number of different offenses that are considered criminal cases. They typically fall into one of the following classifications:
- Personal crimes, committed against another person
- Crimes against property
- Statutory crimes, which are prohibited by a statute
- Crimes committed for financial gain
- Inchoate crimes, which means the criminal act was initiated but not completed
Some of the most common types of criminal cases that fall under those classifications include:
- Domestic or child abuse
- Rape and statutory rape
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Drug possession and trafficking
- Money laundering
- Tax evasion
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list, but it gives you a good idea of the types of crimes that lead to criminal cases.
What Is a Civil Case?
While maybe not as flashy as the types of criminal cases featured on your favorite crime shows, civil cases are still very common.
Unlike criminal cases, a civil case is not initiated by the state or federal government. Instead, it’s a legal dispute between two or more separate parties.
In this case, if someone believes you’ve wronged them or caused them harm, they’ll file a complaint with the court. That makes them the plaintiff.
Typically, the plaintiff is looking for financial compensation for the damages. Or, they might seek legal help to get the conduct that is harming them to stop.
Types of Civil Cases
Much like the criminal cases we discussed above, there are a few common classifications of civil cases. Generally speaking, civil cases fall into one of the following categories:
- Class action lawsuits, where a group of people is affected by the same thing
- Property disputes
- Contract disputes
- Torts, when someone accuses someone else of harming them emotionally or physically
- Complaints against the local or federal government
Civil cases are more common than criminal cases since they are generally less serious. Some examples of civil cases include:
- Medical malpractice or personal injury claims
- Workers compensation
- Disputes with contractors after unsatisfactory work is done
Most likely, if you end up going to court in your lifetime, it will be due to a civil case.
Criminal Case vs Civil Case: Dealing With Both
In most cases, if you have to go to court, it will be for either a criminal case or a civil case. However, in some instances, you could face both charges.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a car accident that results in the death of a person in the other vehicle. If you’re found to be at fault for the accident, you could be charged with homicide, which is a criminal offense.
However, you could also face charges for wrongful death, which is a civil offense. So, you’d be facing the punishments for both types of offenses.
Tips for Choosing the Right Lawyer
Whether you’re facing criminal charges or civil charges, the first thing you should do is request legal help. After all, hiring a good defense lawyer can be the difference between a light sentence or facing jail time.
Do Some Research
Before hiring a lawyer, you’ll want to do some research about local attorneys. Talk to more than one lawyer before you choose one and ask your family and friends for recommendations if they’ve dealt with a similar case.
You can also read online reviews to get an idea about what it’s like to work with a particular firm.
Understand the Fees
Before you make your final choice, make sure to ask about the fees you’ll owe and when you’ll owe them.
In some states, lawyers must give you a breakdown of their fees in writing, to make sure there is no confusion.
Experience Is Key
You’ll also want to work with a lawyer that has experience in defending cases that are similar to yours. When you first have a consultation with an attorney, ask them about their experience in cases like yours and what the outcome was in those cases.
This helps ensure that you have experience on your side if the case goes to trial.
Understanding the Law Is Important
If you find yourself facing a legal battle, the more you understand about the law, the better. By reading this guide to understanding a criminal case vs civil case, we hope you feel more prepared if you end up facing charges.
Want to continue expanding your knowledge? Read through some of our other informative articles before you go.