Two Separate Bodies of Law Punish Wrongdoing, Compensate Victims
Unless you are an attorney, work in some legal capacity, or have been a party to a lawsuit, you likely do not know the difference between criminal and civil law. Here is an explanation:
Criminal law deals with behavior that’s considered an offense against the public, society, or the state; the purpose of prosecution under criminal law is to punish and deter this type of wrongdoing. Some examples of behavior that would be in violation of criminal law include theft, kidnapping, murder, manslaughter, assault, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI).
Only the state or federal government can initiate a criminal case. The government is the prosecutor in a criminal case, a jury almost always decides the outcome, and punishment for the offender can be probation, jail or prison time, a monetary penalty or fine, and in exceptional cases, execution of the defendant.
Defendants who have been arrested and are facing criminal charges have a constitutional right to legal representation, and if they cannot afford an attorney, the state or federal government will provide one. This is the basis of what is known as the Miranda rights each defendant in a criminal case is entitled to.
A criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial. The standard of proof in a criminal trial is beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that if the defendant is to be found guilty, there must be no doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. There can be doubt, just no reasonable doubt, based upon the evidence. In Colorado, a criminal jury consists of 12 jurors who must come to a unanimous decision.
Civil, also known as tort law, deals with behavior that results in an injury that violates the private rights of individual, business, or government, and the purpose of a civil lawsuit is to seek monetary compensation for injured victims. Some examples of common causes of action in a civil case include libel, slander, personal injury, medical malpractice, and breach of contract.
In a civil case, the parties are allowed to retain legal representation if they choose, but they must do so at their own expense. The one exception to this is a defendant in an automobile accident case who is covered by liability insurance. Depending on the terms of his or her insurance policy, his insurance carrier will likely have a duty to defend him in the lawsuit.
The burden of proof in a civil case is the preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the injury. This is a much lower burden than the standard that must be met to obtain a conviction in a criminal case. Unlike in a criminal case, a civil jury may or may not have to be unanimous, depending on jurisdiction. A Colorado civil jury is made up of six jurors who must come to a unanimous decision.
Although there are many differences between criminal and civil law, one legal principle holds true for both: ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you need competent legal advice from a skilled Colorado personal injury attorney, contact Dan Rosen for a free consultation to discuss the details of your injury.