Civil Law vs. Criminal Law

How civil law is different from criminal law One of the main differences between civil law and criminal…

How civil law is different from criminal law

One of the main differences between civil law and criminal law is in the punishment that is levied in the guilty verdicts of the courts. There are three ways a defendant can be punished when found guilty of an offence under criminal law:

  1. A fine that has to be paid
  2. Incarceration in jail for a specific period of time
  3. The death penalty in countries where this is permitted

Under civil law, the defendant will never be put in jail or given the death penalty. The normal penalty is that if the defendant is found guilty of an offence, he will have to reimburse the plaintiff for all the losses incurred that resulted in the charges being laid.

The manner in which crimes are divided into civil and criminal cases is different as well. Felonies and misdemeanors are two terms commonly associated with crime and they are both very broad classes. A felony carries a punishment of more than one year of incarceration. A misdemeanor has a punishment of being incarcerated for less than a year. In the case of cases considered civil law, the defendant may have committed a crime that involved maliciousness, negligence or a complete disregard for the plaintiff’s rights.

Criminal; law deals with much more serious crimes than civil law does. The defendants in criminal cases have access to many more rights and much more protection because of the element of danger that exists. When fines are levied they are very high and many defendants choose to spend time in jail rather than lose their assets.

In the case of a criminal case, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. The prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. In a civil case, though the onus is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant did do something wrong. This shift in who has to prove guilt may change in a civil case as it progresses.

The defendant is always assumed to be innocent until proven guilty under criminal law. Therefore in a court case, the defendant doesn’t really have to prove anything. It is the duty of the lawyer to refute the proof of the prosecution and to cast doubt on the guilt of the defendant. If the evidence shows that the defendant did not commit the crime, then he does not receive any punishment.


  1. Punishment is different in criminal law and civil law.
  2. The manner in which crimes are divided is different in both types of law.
  3. In criminal law the state (prosecution) has to prove that the defendant is guilty.
  4. In civil law the plaintiff has to prove the defendant is guilty, but this could shift to the defendant depending on the evidence presented.
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