Many people are confused about the difference between civil and criminal cases. Civil and criminal are two broad categories in which cases can be filed but each follows its own procedures and carries its own penalties. However, a single act can lead to both a civil lawsuit and criminal charges, so if you are facing criminal charges in Texas, or are the defendant in a civil lawsuit over an incident that could also lead to criminal charges, speak with a Dallas criminal defense lawyer.
About criminal cases
A criminal case is filed by a prosecutor and the federal government, state, or municipality is the pursuing party. A criminal defendant has certain rights such as the right to an attorney and the right to a speedy trial. A competent defense lawyer plays a key role in holding the prosecution accountable in this area.
A prosecutor must prove the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. A criminal case can result in a plea or a trial, where the judge or jury must first determine whether the defendant is guilty of the charges and then if so, the punishment. The punishment depends in part on whether the charges were misdemeanors or felonies and can include fines, incarceration, or even execution. A criminal conviction can impact all areas of a person’s life, so it is important to take the charges seriously and consult with a knowledgeable defense attorney.
About civil cases
A civil case is started by an individual or entity – the plaintiff – and can involve any sort of civil wrong, from a breach of contract to a personal injury. Plaintiffs are usually private parties but governments can file civil lawsuits too. Whether the plaintiff is private or public, the case will progress the same way and the plaintiff must prove the elements of the claim by a preponderance of the evidence (meaning it must be more likely or not).
Most civil lawsuits are voluntarily settled and those that do not will proceed to trial. A prevailing plaintiff often wins money in a verdict but sometimes they win something else like the title to property or a court order that another party must do or must stop doing something.
When civil cases and criminal cases overlap
Criminal and civil cases are not mutually exclusive; the same event can lead to both types of cases. For example, if someone is involved in a bar fight, he may be charged with an assault and also be sued by another fight participant for any personal injuries they sustain. The civil and criminal cases proceed separately, with each having its own time-line, statute of limitations, and burden of proof.
Defendants facing both criminal and civil actions for the same event need to be aware of the potential pitfalls. For example, a defendant may be questioned under oath for the civil case and that testimony may be used against him in the criminal case, or a guilty verdict in a criminal case may lead to a finding of liability in the civil case.
A seasoned criminal lawyer knows how to protect a defendant at each stage of the process to avoid or minimize these kinds of conflicts. If you are facing charges in Dallas, Texas, schedule a visit with criminal defense attorney Jeff King to understand your rights and responsibilities.