How are criminal and civil cases different?

There are two different types of cases in the American legal system: civil and criminal. Generally speaking, the law considers criminal offenses to be crimes against the state, even in the event that the criminal action in question caused harm to a specific individual or individuals. Civil cases, comparatively, are usually disputes between private entities in reference to legal responsibilities and duties the entities owe each other.  

However, there are other key differences between how civil and criminal cases work. According to FindLaw, criminal and civil cases often differ greatly in punishment and standard of proof.  

Differences in punishment

In a criminal case, the criminal action is an affront against society. For example, even though the culprit may have murdered a specific individual, the law considers the act of murder a crime against everybody in the community. This is why these crimes involve government prosecution, where the prosecutor represents the state and not the estate of the deceased.  

As a result, the punishments associated with criminal cases are much more severe than those typically associated with civil cases. Usually a civil case results in monetary damages or an “injunction,” which is an order not to engage in a specific action anymore. On the other hand, criminal cases often involve jail time, monetary punishments, and even death.   

Differences in standard of proof

Because the punishments associated with criminal proceedings are much more severe, the prosecution must prove the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” On the other hand, civil cases have far lower standards of proof. A common standard of proof for a civil case is “the preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it was likely the events happened a certain way.