Key Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases

Justice System in JacksonvilleThe justice system classifies violations against the state and federal law into two: criminal crimes and civil crimes. They are handled differently with punishments also varying by state and severity of the crime.

Criminal Crimes

Criminal crimes are acts that may be a threat to the people or the society as a whole. Examples are burglary, murder, and kidnapping. Criminal cases are classified as either a federal crime or a state crime. Federal crimes, or those acts that violate the laws of the US Government, are prosecuted in a federal court. State crimes, or violations committed within the state, are prosecuted in an attorney’s office within the same jurisdiction.

The Government vs. the Defendant

There may or may not be a victim in a criminal case. An example of a criminal case without a victim is a DUI charge. However, whether or not a victim is there, it is the government that will represent the people in general versus the defendant. On the other hand, the defendant is entitled to an attorney. In Jacksonville IL, for example, Noll Law Office explains that if he cannot afford a criminal defense lawyer, then the government will appoint a public attorney for him.


The punishment for criminal crimes is different in each state but would normally include imprisonment, fines, and some forms of rehabilitative approaches as community service.

Civil Crimes

Civil crimes are less serious than criminal crimes. In simple terms, civil cases involve only disputes against a party, which may be an individual or organization. Examples are divorce proceedings, medical malpractice, and child custody. Again, civil cases may be classified as either a federal or a state suit.

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Plaintiff vs. Defendant

Both parties in a civil lawsuit are called litigants. The one who files the complaint is the plaintiff. The one who is being accused is the defendant. Civil cases are brought to a federal or state court if the plaintiff believes the other party failed to provide just or legal duties that resulted in harm (such as a medical malpractice) or the other must fulfill a specific duty (such as divorce proceedings).


The punishment for a civil case is less serious than a criminal case. It mostly involves monetary settlements as payment for the damages incurred.

Civil and criminal crimes may be different, but both put one’s integrity to test. Speak to an attorney if you are facing a criminal or civil case for proper advice as you go through the process.