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Civil Litigation Versus Criminal Law and Prosecutions – And Why the Difference M
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Civil Litigation Versus Criminal Law and Prosecutions – And Why the Difference Matters
Our U.S. legal system administratively classifies laws, cases, and even the courts themselves into one of two categories: either Civil or Criminal. It’s quite important for us to understand clearly the difference between Civil Law and Criminal Law, because they represent different purposes and outcomes. Criminal law focuses on cases initiated by the government to prove a wrong was committed against society for which the wrongdoer must be punished.” In the U.S., a government (i.e., federal or state) always has to initiate criminal cases. If you hear words like “prosecution,” “accused,” “indicted” (meaning charged), “guilty,” or “convicted,” then you can be sure the matter is a criminal case relating to criminal law.
Civil cases, by contrast, are lawsuits in litigation that are initiated by private parties bringing private claims against other private parties. Governments, too, can initiate cases in civil courts, but the government in civil lawsuits essentially is one among the parties involved in the litigation. When you hear words like “lawsuit” and “suing” on “claims” of “negligence” and “liability” for “monetary damages” or other “relief,” then you can be sure that it’s a civil case. Also while the party losing the case may have to pay money to someone, it’s normally to another party in the case. It can involve a lot of money, but it’s usually not a fine or penalty (there are exceptions), and no one will be going to jail in a purely civil lawsuit. Criminal cases are filed in criminal court against an accused person and are “prosecuted” through a government prosecutor, e.g., a U.S. Attorney or a state’s attorney. Civil cases are filed in civil court by a “plaintiff” (or “claimant”). In either kind of case, the person or company against whom the case has been filed may be called “the defendant.”
The purposes of the two parts of the legal system are quite different. The criminal system (or “justice system”) punishes crimes committed against society as a whole and protects society by deterring future crimes. The level of punishment increases according to severity of the crime, such as whether the crime is a misdemeanor (lesser crimes) or a felony (greater crimes). In the business and financial context, nearly all “white collar” crimes (such as larceny, fraud, embezzlement, forgery, money laundering, and others) are felonies that carry a punishment of least a year of imprisonment and likely a substantial fine (penalty). Civil cases, however, are not designed to punish anyone. The purpose there is more accurately to provide a personal or business remedy for someone whose rights have been violated by another 2 Business Law & Ethics, B.P. Dean, March 2018 party. The remedy restores (i.e., “makes whole again”) the party who has wrongfully suffered an “injury” to person or property.
The cause of that harm may result from a breach of contract, from someone’s negligent act, or from some other act that doesn’t carry the level of intent to harm someone that one would typically see in a criminal act (especially in a felony). Even so, complex situations often arise. The same incident or set of facts can “give rise” to both a criminal case and a civil case, but they are handled separately under separate laws. And the respective cases (criminal or civil) will be decided according to and legal rules and on different burdens of proof. For example, did you ever read about the NFL pro football celebrity O.J. Simpson? In the criminal case, he was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, because the prosecution failed to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But in a civil case that filed against Simpson by the families, and litigated on the same set of facts and evidence, Simpson was found liable to the families for wrongfully causing the deaths. How is that possible? It’s because the family in civil court had proved each element of their civil claim “by a preponderance of the evidence” (or “more likely than not”).
Why is it not double jeopardy? That refers to two criminal convictions for the same crime; this was a civil case and a criminal case. And by the way, you might remember from our previous lesson we said that a corporation – one of the types of legal entities in business – is a legal “person.” That means a corporation can be prosecuted in a criminal case or sued in a civil lawsuit (or possibly both, as described above).
Please find some other examples of a business who has been tried in a criminal case and sued in civil lawsuit. Provide a link to your information and discuss why each occurred.
at least 300 words.