Difference Between Civil Law and Criminal Law

Civil Law vs Criminal Law

What marks a great difference between civil law and criminal law is the notion of punishment.  In criminal law, a defendant can be punished in three ways.  He can be punished by incarceration in jail or by imposing fine paid to the government or in rare cases by execution or by death penalty.  On the contrary, a defendant in a civil case is never incarcerated.  He is not executed too.  Instead the defendant would be asked to reimburse the plaintiff for all the losses he incurred due to the defendant’s behavior.

The division of crimes and civil wrongs is also done with difference.  There are two broad classes of crimes, namely, felonies and misdemeanors.  Felonies are liable for a punishment period of more than one year incarceration.  Misdemeanors have a maximum possible punishment period of less than one year of incarceration.  In the case of civil wrongs, the defendant’s conduct might have a malicious intent, gross negligence or a willful disregard for the rights of others.

It is to be understood that criminal litigation is more dangerous than civil litigation.  The additional element of danger makes criminal defendants possess more rights and protections than civil defendants.  The punishment in terms of monetary fine is too heavy that most defendants would like to spend one year in jail than paying heavy fine from their personal assets.

Another important difference between civil law and criminal law is that the burden of proof is always on the state in the case of a criminal litigation.  In the case of a civil litigation the burden of proof is borne initially by the plaintiff.  In the case of a criminal litigation, the state must prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime, whereas the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is guilty in the case of a civil litigation.  The shift of burden of proof might change as the suit progresses in the case of a civil litigation provided the plaintiff has made a prima facie case.

Another major difference between the two is that in the case of criminal law, the defendant needs to prove nothing as he is assumed to be innocent, whereas the defendant has to refute the plaintiff’s evidence against him in the case of a civil litigation.  A plaintiff wins the litigation if the evidence that he shows against the defendant is proved or is accepted as favoring the plaintiff.

The major differences between civil law and criminal law can be summed up as follows:

The notion of punishment is different in both civil law and criminal law.  This results in the difference in the methods of punishment too in civil law and criminal law.

The division of crimes differs in the case of civil law and criminal law.

The burden of proof in the case of a criminal litigation is on the state, whereas the burden of proof in the case of a civil litigation is on the plaintiff.

The burden of proof in the case of a civil litigation would shift to the defendant in case the plaintiff makes a prima facie case.