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Civil and Criminal cases - Differences

Civil and criminal cases both consider violations of people's rights and who is at fault. However, they differ in structure, burdens of proof, and penalties.

A civil case involves a dispute between two people, or parties, on a certain issue. One party sues the other, and the jury determines liability and the amount of damages. The court may order the party found at fault to pay money to the injured party or to fulfill an obligation, such as honoring a contract.

Criminal law considers a crime an act against society rather than an individual. Therefore, the government brings legal action against a person for committing a crime. If found guilty, the defendant may have to pay a fine, serve time in jail or prison, or be placed on probation. The law and society view jail time, or incarceration, as the loss of one's personal freedom and thus, a more severe penalty than a monetary fine.

Because the stakes are so much higher for a defendant in the criminal case than between two parties in a civil case, the justice system also includes safeguards to protect a defendant's rights. These include the presumption of innocence, or that the person is innocent until proven guilty. Instead of the defendant having to prove his or her innocence, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The burden of proof is much lighter in a civil case.

The Major Differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law are:

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