There are a number of differences between civil law and criminal law. Let us look at a few of the most important differences.
- In criminal law, the plaintiff in a case is always the government. Crimes are considered to be acts against the government. In a civil case, anyone may be the plaintiff.
- In criminal law, a person who is found guilty may be imprisoned as a punishment. This is not possible in a civil case.
- Criminal law is made only by statute. That is, a legislature has to pass a law making something a crime. By contrast, civil law is also made by court decisions. A court can change, for example, the law about what constitutes negligence, but it cannot change the law about what constitutes murder.
- In order for a jury to convict, it must be unanimous and it must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury in a civil case only needs to find that the “preponderance of evidence” shows the defendant is liable. The jury does not need to be unanimous.
- In addition, in a civil case, the defendant might be found partially liable. In other words, an accident might be only partly the defendant’s fault. A defendant in a criminal case is either completely guilty or completely innocent.
- Finally, only the defendant can appeal in a criminal case. In a civil case, either side may appeal.