What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Litigation? 0

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Understanding the Basics of the U.S. Legal System

“Litigation” is essentially another word for lawsuit and there are two basic categories of lawsuits in the United States: civil and criminal.

“Civil litigation” refers to suits involving private citizens, be it individuals, businesses or organizations who seek some sort of remedy or relief from another party. Although this “remedy” is most often in the form of monetary damages, it can also include a court order that directs the losing party to perform in a certain way or provide a particular service or benefit. Contract disputes, personal injury claims and petitions for divorce all fall within the category of civil law.

In civil actions, the standard of proof is usually a “preponderance of the evidence” although there are a few types of civil suits that will rely on a slightly higher standard of proof known as “clear and convincing evidence”. Parties to civil lawsuits are typically referred to as Plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) and Defendant (the person being sued). In family court, however, these terms are interchangeable with Petitioner and Respondent, respectively.

It is also possible to bring third parties into an existing suit through “cross-claims”. This is most often seen in personal injury suits, however, third-parties can be brought into certain family law actions as well, such as in a disputed paternity case.

A criminal case, on the other hand, deals with crimes against society or “the people”. These actions are brought by the government on behalf of its citizens (through a district attorney or prosecutor) to punish a person or organization for committing a criminal act. If found guilty, the accused (also known as the Defendant) is said to have been “convicted” and punishment can include monetary fines, restitution, supervised probation or rehabilitation as well as prison or jail time and, in some states, execution.

The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the highest legal standard in the United States. Unlike civil cases, third parties cannot just be “brought” into the action through a cross-claim. Instead, if it becomes apparent that another party should be charged with the crime or even a related crime, a new case will be filed.

Both civil and criminal litigation have procedural rules which must be followed and which vary from state to state. Hiring an experienced attorney is the best way to make sure that your case is handled according to those rules.

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