In the legal system, there are two different types of cases: the civil case and the
criminal case. Civil cases are basically lawsuits that arise when one party wrongs the
other either by neglect, damage, injury, trespassing, breach of contract etc. Criminal
cases on the other hand are lawsuits involving a party and the state, because the
party has either violated or is suspected of violating the law. The state referred to in
this case is the government (either local, state or federal) of the country in question.
There are various differences between these two types of cases.
Gravity of Offences
Civil offences include fighting, assault, libel, slander, infidelity, sanitation offences,
traffic offences, illegal assembly, prostitution etc. These offences are punishable by
the imposition of fines, and in some situations, short term detention sentences.
Criminal offences carry more weight. They are deemed as severe offences that
attract severe penalties. Criminal offences include murder, kidnapping,
mismanagement of public funds, vandalization of public property, drug trafficking,
bribery and corruption etc. Most criminal offenders usually end up in jail, and even
additional payment of fines.
Need for Jury
Most civil cases do not require the presence of a jury. The decision rests solely on
the shoulders of the judge. However, almost all criminal cases require the presence
of a jury for the decision-making process and consequently, the final verdict.
Need for an Attorney
In criminal cases, the defendant (i.e. the party accused of violating the law) must
provide an attorney to defend him. If he can’t, then the state is entitled to provide
one for him. Civil cases do not have such stringent requirements. If the defendant in
a civil case can’t afford to provide an attorney, then he is permitted to defend
Certainty of Evidence or Proof
The penalties or punishment for criminal offences are much harsher and severe than
civil offences. Therefore, before judgement is passed in a criminal case, the evidence
or proof against the defendant must be rock-solid, unassailable and basically
faultless. In civil cases, evidence must not necessarily be proven with absolute
certainty. Most times, the existence of evidence or proof is enough for civil cases.
Involvement of the Victim
In civil cases, the victim is responsible for suing the offending party to court. The
victim is the prosecutor. In criminal cases, for example, a kidnapping lawsuit, the
kidnapped person might not need to appear in court at all, as the state is the party
responsible for the lawsuit. The state is the prosecutor. In some criminal cases, there might not be a victim per se, for example, a lawsuit involving the state and a public official who has embezzled funds.
In essence, civil cases are just between two individuals, firms, companies or
organizations. Criminal offences are viewed as offences or crimes against the entire
society. This is because such actions could cause chaos, anarchy and sadness in the
society, e.g. murder, or if not checked could harm members of the society, e.g.
driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.