Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: July 01, 2022


Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases

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When conflicts, both big and small, seem unresolvable, they are often taken to the court to receive appropriate justice for the damage done. The justice system established in any country addresses the issues reported by the citizens, by categorizing them as either of the two groups: a)A civil case or b)A criminal case. However, there are certain criteria as to how a case is regarded as a civil case or a criminal case. Let us dig deeper and find more!

Civil case vs. Criminal case

The main difference between a civil case and a criminal case lies in the type of offense recorded in the case. A civil case usually involves wrongdoings and complaints between two or more individuals or organizations. These cases are typically related to unfulfilled duties, negligence of responsibilities, or breach of contracts. On the other hand, Criminal cases include those offenses that harm society or the public as a whole. They typically involve more serious crimes, such as felonies, and murder, and accordingly are imposed with severe punishments.

Difference Between Civil cases and Criminal cases in Tabular Form

Table: Civil case vs. Criminal case
Parameters of Comparison
Civil case
Criminal case
Victims of the Crime
Specific person, a group, or an organization is subjected to illegal misbehavior.
The state or society as a whole is subjected to serious crimes and felonies. Any case involving the immediate victim of these offenses to be an individual also falls in this category.
Level of evidence
Civil cases require lower standards of evidence as they can be proved easily.
Criminal cases require evidence of high standards since these cases must be solved with utmost accuracy.
These cases are filed by private parties.
These cases are only initiated by the state government or higher i.e., the prosecution.
Civil cases are usually decided by a judge. However, prominent cases may involve a jury.
Criminal cases are decided by a jury almost all the time.
Civil cases almost always lead to a monetary penalty.
Criminal cases involving serious offenses are charged with imprisonment and may often be accompanied by a monetary fine.
Defendants of a civil case aren’t provided with any protection nor are obliged to be.
Defendants of a criminal case are protected under certain rights to protect them from unwarranted searches or seizures.

What is a Civil Case?

A court dispute is considered a civil case when it involves conflicts or disputes among two or more individuals, groups of people, or organizations that forsake their civil responsibilities. Thus, a civil case can also be referred to as a civil responsibility case. In these cases, one party is usually harmed by the actions of another party. This blame is taken to the court and heard. The files usually contain the amendments demanded by the accuser party, which are considered when he wins the case. The judge or the jury gets to decide the penalties and their intensity, upon the imposing of which, the accused must serve. However, most civil cases do not result in imprisonment and only lead to a certain amount of fine that the accused must pay.

How do civil cases work?

To give a clear explanation of a civil case, we will choose one of the most popular disputes that can be filed under a civil case: money dispute

Let us assume a man named John made a written statement that promises a certain amount of money is to be paid to another woman, Kelly. Kelly here is right to expect payment from John as promised. However, John neglects the promise or denies the claim that he ever made one. Kelly now has the right to sue John in civil court by filing a complaint under a civil case. However, if John is intimidated by the action, or for whatever reason, resolved the matter with Kelly, a mediator might be asked to provide a formal verdict without the conflict being settled on a former trial. This reduces the pressure and burden of accumulating evidence for the case.

A civil case can be divided and explained into the following stages:

  • Pre-filing: This stage begins when the dispute arises and the matter is addressed. The parties will typically try to make demands first, throwing around negotiations and suggestions regarding the same. While most parties try and solve the matters here, there is a possibility that the negotiations aren’t fair enough to either one of the parties. Thus, they prepare for potential court action.
  • Filing/ Pleading: It is during this stage that the case is filed by the accuser party against the accused party. The accused might need to answer or gather a response to this move.
  • Research/ discovery: During the research stage, both the parties exchange information about each other. This helps them gather extra material, such as certain details of the case that can be loopholed, the defendant’s weaknesses, etc, that can prove to be evidence. Witnesses are gathered and prepared.
  • Pre-trial/ evidence prep: During this stage, the parties have already gathered their side of the evidence and set them in order. There might be a possibility of sudden meetings that are set up to try and settle the matter without the involvement of the court.
  • Trial: The actual process of the hearing is initiated now and the statements of both the parties are heard. With the evidence presented and the witnesses’ statements taken, the case is examined by a jury or a judge. This process could go on for weeks or months, depending upon the offense. Finally, a judgment will be passed and appropriate charges will be pressed.
  • Post-trial: Most post-trial periods just consist of both the parties collecting their respective judgments.

Popular types of civil cases:

  • Tort claims: Originating from the word ‘tortious’, these types of cases include those conflicts that result in damage to someone’s personal property, reputation, or the likes of any other wrongful act that might ask for compensation. Eg: negligence, defamation, etc.
  • Breach of contract: When someone refuses or fails to meet the terms of a contract, typically oral or written, without any genuine, legal excuse, it is considered a breach of contract. Eg: monetary payments, delivery of goods, incomplete tasks/ projects, etc.
  • Landlord/tenant issues: Any civil cases that involve disputes and quarrels between a landlord and their tenants come under this category. Eg: refusal to return the security deposit, eviction orders, property damage, etc.

What is a Criminal Case?

A court dispute is considered a criminal case when the offenses made and the crimes committed affect the public or society as a whole. Any offense that is filed as a criminal case is considered to be an offense against the state. Thus, even in some cases such as murder, if the immediate victim of a certain offense is an individual and not the whole society, the case is still considered to be a criminal case and an offense against the state. The case, once filed, can be initiated only by the state or the federal government. The case is decided by a jury generally to give a final verdict.

Criminal cases comprise files that hold more gravitas than that of a civil case and can often tend to be gruesome. Most times, either one of the parties is seriously affected and thus, accurate judgment with a higher level of scrutiny is called for. Hence, every criminal case demands a high standard of evidence that must be presented before the court. There is also protection granted for the defendants of a criminal case against certain actions such as unwarranted or illegal searches or seizures.

How does it work?

Criminal cases lack the balance of power that civil cases possess. Civil cases allow higher space for negotiation when the victim isn’t satisfied with what the accused has to offer as it is up to him whether he chooses to accept the settlement or not. However, in the case of criminal cases, the prosecutor works for the victim in the sense of working for the state. The victim is merely a witness and does not possess as much power in a criminal case.

We may consider a criminal case to have nearly the same kind of stages as that of a civil case. However, a criminal case can have way higher numbers of recordings in comparison to a civil case, depending upon the complexity of the case.

Most common types of criminal cases:

  • Crimes against people: cases that result in physical or mental damage to a person. These offenses are generally considered the most serious. Some of the examples include sexual assault, murder, assault of any kind, homicide, kidnapping, etc.
  • Crimes against property: Crimes that are commissioned to harm another’s personal property are categorized as a proprietary crime. This hurts the lawful and peaceful possession of one’s property and can directly harm the well-being of one’s mental or physical health. Some examples of such offenses are identity theft, burglary, and embezzlement.
  • Crimes of non-violence: Any drug-related crimes are categorized as non-violent crimes until no one is physically or mentally harmed in the process. Examples include drug possession or drug trafficking, driving under influence or DUI, etc.
  • White-collared crimes: Most crimes categorized as white-collared crimes are those that involve deceit and fraud. Some examples are tax evasion, security fraud, or even racketeering.

Main Differences between Civil case and Criminal case in points

  • A civil case involves disputes among individuals, groups of people, or an organization  whereas a criminal case involves offenses against the general public or the society as a whole, even if the victim that is immediately affected by the offense is an individual.
  • In a civil case, the parties involved usually charge cases upon matters that consist of neglect of legal responsibilities, unfulfilled or breached contracts, property damage, and similar misbehaviors. On the other hand, criminal cases involve much more serious offenses that can be considered felonies such as murder, assault, identity theft, or drug-related case.
  • The parties involved in a civil case, file charges against the defendant. Thus only those private parties are involved in the initiation of the case. But in the case of a criminal case, only the state government or higher bodies can initiate the hearing of the case i.e., the prosecution.
  • A civil case is generally decided and proceeded in the presence of a judge. However, in the situation of a case with greater significance, the hearing may be decided by a jury. Criminal cases, on the other hand, are decided by a jury almost all of the time.
  • The level of evidence also referred to as the standard of proof, that is required in the hearing of a civil case is much lesser in general. It is easier to prove cases of lesser gravitas, as compared to a criminal case. However, a criminal case requires solid, fool-proof evidence that does not contain any loopholes. This difference exists due to the contrast in the severity of the offenses, as well as the punishments.
  • The court needs concrete evidence to make accurate decisions when hearing a criminal case as the need for justice is more urgent. However, this urgency and need to be immaculate does not exist in the procession of a civil case.
  • Criminal cases are charged with harsh punishments, most of them being imprisonment. They may often be accompanied by a certain amount of penalty that needs to be paid along with serving their sentence. Civil cases, however, are mostly concluded with warnings against an action or monetary penalties in the form of fines.
  • The defendants of a civil case are not entitled to any protection and thus do not receive any. The defendants of a criminal case generally receive their right to protection from unwarranted and illegal seizures and searches.


Although both these categories look to bring justice to those who suffer and evict crime as much as possible, it is important to note that there is a stark difference between both kinds of categories. One must make the right choice and consult appropriate law agencies to access professional help when the situation calls for it.




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"Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases." Diffzy.com, 2023. Thu. 23 Mar. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-civil-cases-and-criminal-cases-127>.

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