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Knowing the Difference between Civil and Criminal Law

The American justice system is one of the best in the world, primarily due to the uniformity of rules and regulations. Everything is out there in the public record, and if you find yourself in the crosshairs of legal action you’ll always have an attorney by your side to walk you through it. Every case is different, of course, as are the crimes and the punishments that follow. But the two basic sides of the legal system are civil and criminal law. Most people will be involved with a civil case at some point in their adult lives, while a criminal case is something you never hope to come across. But chances are you will, either because of bad luck, bad decisions or through doing your duty and serving on a jury. You’ve got to understand what you’re getting into, so here are some simple ways you can tell the difference between civil and criminal law.

First of all, there’s the definition. At their cores, civil law is about redress and criminal law is about punishment. In layman’s term, a civil case looks to resolve a dispute between private citizens, between organizations or some mix of the two. They almost always result in some amount of compensation being awarded to the victor. On the other hand, criminal law deals with just what you’d think the name implies. Whether a private citizen or a public company, the goal is to try the plaintiff after some sort of criminal offense, and to hand out punishment if the party is found guilty.

Another big difference lies with the burden of proof. This is how that guilty or innocent verdict is reached. In civil law, the plaintiff is always responsible for the burden of proof. He or she brought the case to the court, so he or she must put forth the proof that bears out their point of view. The goal is to realize what is known as a preponderance of evidence. Basically, enough evidence backs up their claim that you can safely say they fulfilled the burden of proof. Criminal law is much more strict. In these cases it is always the state or federal agency that is bringing the case to court, as they have charged the person or company with a crime. And in order for a guilty verdict to be returned, the state must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a much taller order than preponderance of evidence.

So what sort of punishment is handed out in these cases? In civil law, you’re most often looking at financial compensation, helping to make up for injuries or bad behavior. There may also be a transfer of property from the loser to the winner of the case. In criminal law, if the defendant is found guilty the punishment could range from a cash fine to months or years of community service, or even jail time. In the worst cases, the death penalty could be considered. Criminal cases break into two divisions: a felony or a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are fairly minor, and fines and community service are usually the biggest punishments handed out. Felonies are more serious crimes, and jail time is almost always what the government is hoping to achieve.

Based on the above criteria, you don’t have to call on the best criminal lawyers in Melbourne to understand the various cases that fall under each type of law. Criminal cases include assaults, robberies, fraud, drug trafficking, and serious violent crimes such as rape and murder. On the civil side you’ll find divorce cases, child custody disagreements, personal injury and property disputes, and problems between landlords and their tenants.

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