By John Grisham’s best-selling books and Law and Order on TV, to the latest fad of true crime shows and podcasts, there’s a fascination of how the media portrays the American legal system. Audiences are drawn to the drama, suspense and justice of the court. We love to watch and listen as lawyers do what they do best: Defend the innocent and prosecute the guilty.
But how much can you actually know about how the law really works? Are you conscious of the principles of civil law versus criminal law? You have heard the terms used, but you might not understand how they differ?
We enlisted some legal experts to help break it down. Keep reading if you want to learn more about the similarities and differences between civil law and criminal lawenforcement.
Civil law vs. criminal law: The basics
If you are at all curious about this issue, you have probably already employed the tried-and-true way of assessing the Merriam-Webster dictionary. * Here is what they have to offer:
Criminal law Suggestion: The law of crimes and their punishments
Civil law Suggestion: The law of private or civil rights
When these statements are true, they are hardly the comprehensive definitions you’re searching for. You are probably left with even more questions, so let’s dig into some of the fundamental differentiators between criminal and civil law.
The most important difference between criminal and civil law deals with individuals who committed a wrong against someone else. Robert Odell, a Hollywood employment attorney , helps us break down the definitions of criminal and civil law based on the parties involved.
So what’s civil law? To put it simply, civil law deals with disputes between one thing and another. The guidelines for these disputes are outlined in official documents such as the Business and Professions Code, the Health and Safety Code and other governmental rules and regulations. The reason for action in such cases can be initiated by personal in addition to public parties.
Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with a person’s offenses against the state or national government. It might sound literal–like someone attacking a government official–but a crime against the state basically means breaking a criminal law established by authorities.
“In simple terms, the gap between criminal and civil laws lies in the exemptions and codes used in the practice of every,” Odell says. He goes on to describe that criminal law, which deals with crimes against the government–offenses like theft, murder, drunk driving–is directed by the penal code. Only the government can initiate the prosecution in criminal cases.
Civil law vs. criminal law: Conduct at issue
Since the rules or laws being broken differ between criminal and civil law, the particular conduct at issue also differs.
“The conduct at issue in criminal cases is generally more serious than civil cases and often involves intent,” says Peter Anderson, a Washington, D.C. civil litigation lawyer . “Civil cases often involve negligent conduct.”
By way of instance, a person intentionally killing another individual is a criminal violation. A civil violation, on the other hand, often seems more like somebody failing to follow city code–perhaps not clearing snow from a sidewalk which leads to someone slipping and getting hurt, for instance. Failing to shovel, typically, doesn’t fulfill the standard of a criminal action, but it’s against the rules and provides the individual harmed a path for seeking justice for damages.
Civil and criminal law examples
While the following examples are by no means comprehensive, they ought to provide you a clearer idea of the topics and kinds of cases you might find in either section of law.