What’s the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Law?

What's the Difference between Criminal and Civil Law

Although you have probably heard the terms criminal law and civil law, you may be wondering what’s the difference between them and why it matters. This overview of criminal vs. civil law explains four key differences between the two.

The Plaintiff

The party who is bringing the case or suit is called the plaintiff. The law views criminal cases as violations against the society or the state, even when an individual is the victim of the alleged crime. Therefore, only the government may be the plaintiff in a criminal case. For civil cases, any party claiming to have been wronged can be a plaintiff.


A jury almost always decides a criminal case. Although a judge usually decides a civil case, there are instances in which a jury may do so.

Burden of Proof

For criminal and civil law, the burden of proof refers to what standard the plaintiff’s evidence must meet to win the case. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof than criminal cases. In a civil case, the plaintiff must provide “a preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence”. The prosecutor of a criminal case must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the criminal act in question.


When a defendant is found guilty in a criminal case, that individual may face harsh penalties like probation, jail time, and a fine. Imprisonment is not a penalty for civil cases. A defendant who loses a civil case may have to pay a substantial financial award to the plaintiff. Also, the court could order the losing defendant to perform a certain action or to stop a particular behavior.

Learn More About Criminal vs Civil Law

Getting an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical if you have been accused of a crime. For a free case evaluation, contact Kersey Law today.

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