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What’s the difference between a criminal and civil case?

Criminal cases are brought when the government (local, state, or federal) believes someone has done something illegal. That person, commonly referred to as the defendant, may face jail time if they are convicted of the crime. The government prosecutes criminal cases, and must overcome the highest burden of proof, guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to prove their case. This means that technically, the defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence.


Civil cases involvedisagreements between individual citizens or corporations, and generally result in money damages or judicial orders.
The party that brings the lawsuit, known as the plaintiff, has the burden of proof, and must overcome that burden to prevail. However, this standard of proof is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.

 

See other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s the difference between a criminal and civil case?
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