Google Review

Criminal vs. Civil Law


Most people probably can tell you about criminal cases. In a criminal case the people or state, represented by a State’s Attorney, must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” the defendant is guilty of violating the law in which he or she is charged. Many people however get this wrong and confuse “reasonable doubt” and think this means beyond “any doubt”. This can often result in people like Casey Anthony or O.J. Simpson being acquitted when they probably should not have been.

But in civil court, there is only a “preponderance of evidence” burden on the plaintiff. Loosely translated, it means 51%. That is why a guy like Simpson gets acquitted in criminal court but then gets hammered in civil court. Somewhere, whether it’s movies or books, or poor education, the public needs to be educated on the difference between reasonable and 100% certainty. 100% certainty can never be achieved without either a confession or an eyewitness. If that’s what it takes to convict someone then all the police would have to do is ask “did you do this?” and “did anyone see who did?” If the answer to both is “no” then just say “well. Then you have a nice day.” There would be no sense in bringing in detectives or a forensics team because you’ll never get to a “100% certainty.”

It is very fair and just that it takes a lot of proof to send someone to prison. But it is not supposed to be impossible. You want to be as sure as possible if you are taking someone’s freedom away, but 100% is too much.

A civil suit is a different animal. In civil law, nobody is going to prison. This is a suit where somebody is accusing another party of a breach of a contract or of inflicting some kind of damages and the plaintiff wants to be compensated.  Many times the plaintiff can sue for a certain dollar figure and the judge or jury could rule that he was 20% at fault and award him 80%.

Another key difference between criminal and a civil case is that the defendant in a criminal case can sit there and do nothing if that’s what he chooses. The burden of proof is on the state, That is not so in a civil case. If the plaintiff sues you and claims you owe money for non-payment of whatever, you need to prove you do not.  Not showing up to court is a terrible idea. You will lose and lose big.  Even if you think they have you in a vice grip, your lawyer may be able to help you. Don’t just throw your hands up on the air and give up. It could be a costly mistake.