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#143 The differences between criminal and civil cases

mp3 #143 What are the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases? (mp3 file)


Our legal system recognizes two different kinds of law cases: civil and criminal. A civil case is one in which a person who feels he has been wronged may bring legal action in order to protect his own interests or to collect damages from the person who has wronged him. It is started by the person whose rights have been violated, who is known as the plaintiff. The person who is sued in a civil case is known as the defendant or the respondent.

A criminal case, on the other hand, is one in which the municipal, county, state, or federal government begins the action in the name of its citizens. The plaintiff may be the people of the State of California, or the United States of America. The case is prosecuted, that is, put into action and the plaintiff is represented in court, by the district attorney, or the U.S. Attorney General. The accused, or the defendant, is charged with a crime against society--a violation of the laws regulating our conduct, such as murder, rape, conspiracy, or robbery.

In a civil case, the person who feels he has been wronged decides whether or not to bring suit against the person or people who have wronged him. He also decides how much money in damages he will sue for. He cannot request that the defendant go to jail except in unusual cases where the person he is suing hay have violated a court order.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor decides whether or not to initiate proceedings, that is, to charge the defendant with violating a law. The prosecutor also decides what legal penalty to ask for.

In a civil case, it is up to the plaintiff, the person who has started the lawsuit, to prove his case with stronger evidence than the defendant has. In other words, the judge or jury must believe that the weight of the plaintiff’s evidence is greater than the weight of the defendant’s evidence, if the plaintiff is to win.

In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not main beyond all possible doubt but it does mean the court or jury must have an abiding conviction to a moral certainty of the truth of the charge. This is a much heavier burden of proof than there is in a civil case.

In a civil case, any person may be required to testify in court. Everyone has the right to hire and appear with his own attorney.

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