What Distinguishes Criminal Law from All Other Law

February 1, 2023

In the justice system, wrongdoings are punished and victims compensated under two different bodies of law. A case can either be viewed from a criminal law perspective or civil law point of view. While criminal law is concerned with injuries caused to the public, civil law is concerned with injuries committed on an individual. Consequently, criminal law differs from other laws in the following ways.

1. By Definition

Criminal law is defined at the local, state, and federal levels. It defines criminal activities and establishes legal punishments for crimes like theft, assault, and arson. Such cases are only conducted through the criminal court system. On the contrary, civil law defines the private rights of an individual. This means that civil laws are only applicable when the rights of an individual are violated. Such matters are handled outside a court of law and may be settled by a third-party mediator.

2. By Focus

Criminal law is a legal body that deals with behaviors that can be offensive or interpreted as an offense against the public, the state, or society. This is true even if the immediate victim of the behavior is an individual. Examples include assault, murder, drunken driving, and theft. On the other hand, civil law is a legal body that deals with behaviors that cause an injury to an individual or a private entity like a company. Examples include a break of contract, defamation, property damage, and negligence that resulted in injury or death.

3. By Burden of Proof

The standards of a criminal court are quite different from those of a civil court. The defendant in a criminal court is either found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or be acquitted. The federal or state government has a responsibility of proving that the defendant undoubtedly committed the crime. On the other hand, a plaintiff in a civil court brings a lawsuit against a defendant. In this case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof that the defendant was responsible for the problem. The defendant is said to be liable if the jury decides that he or she was responsible for causing the injury.

4. By Legal Penalties

If the judge or jury finds the defendant guilty in a criminal case, the defendant will be sentenced based on the established guidelines of the current criminal law. The judge will have some discretion and the legal penalties may include probation, fines, or incarceration. In contrast, a defendant found liable in a civil case can be ordered by the jury to pay damages to the plaintiff. The damages may be in the form of financial compensation or quantified losses such as medical bills or suffering encountered by the plaintiff.