The difference between the two is that in Criminal cases, you are defending yourself against the government for breaking a criminal (or traffic) law. The government can be at the city, county, state, or even federal level, and is represented by a prosecutor. There is a limit to how much you may be punished for each offense, either in jail time or fines. The prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. A civil litigation on the other hand, is much more subjective. You are being sued by a private person (usually represented by a law firm) whether for something you did (or failed to do) which may have caused them harm or cost them money. The burden of proof is 50/50, which means if the evidence weighs slightly more against you than against your accuser, you lose the case. Like criminal litigation, civil litigation is VERY costly in order to hire defense lawyers. Most lawsuits settle “out of court” at a reduced settlement cost in order to avoid paying potentially higher costs defending one’s self in court.
In criminal law, a guilty defendant is punished by either (1) incarceration in a jail or prison, (2) fine paid to the government, or, in exceptional cases, (3) execution of the defendant: the death penalty. Crimes are divided into two broad classes: felonies have a maximum possible sentence of more than one year incarceration, misdemeanors have a maximum possible sentence of less than one year incarceration. It is not the victim’s responsibility to bring a criminal case. In a kidnapping case, for instance, the government would prosecute the kidnapper; the victim would not be a party to the action.
In contrast, a defendant in civil litigation is never incarcerated and never executed. In general, a losing defendant in civil litigation only reimburses the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant’s behavior. A civil case begins when a person or entity (such as a corporation or the government), called the plaintiff, claims that another person or entity (the defendant) has failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff. Both the plaintiff and the defendant are also referred to as “parties” or “litigants.” The plaintiff may ask the court to tell the defendant to fulfill the duty, or make compensation for the harm done, or both. Legal duties include respecting rights established under the Constitution or under federal or state law.
Civil cases usually involve private disputes between persons or organizations. Criminal cases involve an action that is considered to be harmful to society as a whole. Our firm provides legal services to the New York area. At The Law Offices of Neil Weissman, we have adopted a “new approach” to providing legal services. The experienced attorneys in the firm’s offices provide clients with a wide range of litigation expertise. We provide the kind of quality representation clients expect from experienced attorneys, as well as a high level of personal attention and commitment they deserve.