How are Civil Cases Different Than Criminal Cases?

People in a meeting room

Civil cases and criminal cases are different, but they can get confusing: sometimes a civil and a criminal case may arise from the same conduct, and things can get pretty complicated.

Let’s look at the difference between civil and criminal cases, and their implications.

What Are Civil Cases?

Civil cases deal with matters that don’t involve the criminal justice system. They can be personal injury cases, breach of contract cases, estate cases (where someone has passed away and their estate must be handled), or anything else that doesn’t involve penal consequences.

Damages in a civil case may include things like pain and suffering, and possible future damages. There can even be punitive damages. Damage payments are paid to the people who were hurt as a result of the other person’s actions.

For the most part, civil matters don’t deal with the possibility of jail, although there are some nuances to this. Getting a protection order to keep a stalker away is a civil matter, but of course, stalking itself can be a criminal offense, so violating the protection order is a crime and can have punitive consequences, e.g., incarceration.

What Are Criminal Cases?

Criminal cases generally deal with conduct that violates criminal statues and have the possible ramification of criminal punishment, including, but not limited to, Court costs, fines, and possible jail time. In criminal cases, fines and fees are paid to the state or county not to the other party.

We may also see something called “restitution”: this is where a person is compensated for the actual financial damages they suffered as the result of a criminal act.

See how things can get confusing? In some cases, there are civil and criminal fines and penalties.

A Case with Civil and Criminal Repercussions

Years ago, I had a client who was charged with a DUID. She was in a rural area, and had driven through and destroyed a fence surrounding a cattle yard. Several of the cows escaped, and a couple of them were injured.

She was charged with a crime and had to pay Court costs and fines, had a suspended jail sentence, and had to do mandatory drug classes. She also lost her license. As part of the case, the rancher who owned the cattle wanted to be compensated for their damages, e.g., restitution, and we got into a debate over what exactly the damages were.

There is usually some civil aspect to all criminal cases, but the damages in a criminal case are solely out-of-pocket expenses, whereas damages in a civil case may include intangible things like pain and suffering and future damages.

This is why, in many cases, there will be both a civil and a criminal case arising out of the same conduct… and why it can get a little confusing. Recently, I handled a case where a driver hit a pedestrian. The client was charged with careless driving resulting in injury. However, the injured party also hired an attorney that regularly advertises on TV, and they also brought a civil lawsuit.

Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Court Case

Whether you’re dealing with a criminal case, a civil case, or both, it’s important that you hire an attorney to represent your interests in Court. If you’re dealing with a criminal case, or a civil issue like divorce, pre- or postnuptial agreements, or protection orders, call our office today at 303-449-1873 to schedule a complimentary consultation and find out if Barre Sakol is the right representative for your case.

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