Civil and criminal actions involve important aspects of the justice system, but the way in which each action is dealt with is different. In the early phases of the development of the laws, civil and criminal actions were dealt with in the same manner. Over time, law makers have developed differences in these two actions. The differences between them can be made by who prosecutes the cases, the details of the cases, and the outcomes sought in the cases.
Civil actions involve differences between people where a person feels that another person’s actions caused him harm. According to Simmons (2008), most of the tort (civil) law is governed by a negligence standard. The object of civil actions is to address the harmful actions committed against a plaintiff by enforcing compensation from the defendant. The goal of civil actions is for the defendant to compensate and pay damages the plaintiff feels was incurred on him. Civil law cases can be brought before the state courts or the federal courts. (Simmons, 2008)
In civil actions, the plaintiff usually files the case with the court. The attorneys for both parties will present their arguments to the court as to why they believe that the plaintiff or defendant should win in the case. The burden of proof comes from the plaintiff and the defendant must be able to disprove the evidence by the plaintiff. In civil cases, a vote of only 9 of 12 jurors is needed for a defendant to be found guilty. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge then determines the amount of damage or punitive damage cost that the defendant must pay to the plaintiff. (Simmons, 2008)
Criminal actions do not require harm as a prerequisite. Criminal actions involve the breaking of laws and criminal offenses. The object of criminal actions is to address the crime that was committed by the defendant. The goal of criminal actions is to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant and to punish him if he is found guilty of the crime. Criminal cases can be brought before local, state, or federal courts. (Criminal Cases, 2013)
In criminal cases, the government brings charges against the defendant. The defendant who is charged with the crime is given a formal charge called and indictment or a charge called an information. The charges are usually presented at the arraignment. A preliminary hearing is then held with the judge to determine if there is enough evidence to prosecute the defendant. After the preliminary hearing, a defendant who has been charged with a felony may go before a grand jury. The grand jury determines if the defendant should be charged with the crime. The jury trial then proceeds where a prosecutor or United States attorney will prosecute the case and the defendant will have an attorney to represent him. (Criminal Cases, 2013)
In criminal cases, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After all arguments are presented to the jury, the jury will deliberate and determine if the defendant is guilty or innocent. A unanimous verdict is required in criminal cases for the verdict from the jury. If the defendant is found to be innocent, then he is released. If the defendant is found to be guilty, the judge will set a date for a sentencing. Sentencing in criminal cases is jail time and/or fines. (Criminal Cases, 2013) An example of a case that involves criminal actions and civil actions is if Brian intentionally hits Robert with his car. Brian and Robert have an argument because Robert is having an affair with Brian’s wife. Brian then gets into his car and hits Robert with the car. Robert is taken to the hospital with injuries and dies. Brian committed a crime or actus reus. Brian’s actions also included mens rea. Brian had a specific intent of causing harm to Robert and he purposely hit Robert with his car. (Lippman, 2007)
According to Georgia law, Brian can be charged with murder in this case. The classification of the murder would be a felony. A felony is described as a crime that carries a punishment of imprisonment of more than one year. Brian will be charged with first degree murder in criminal court. First degree murder is when a person deliberately kills another person. Brian’s crime is mala in se meaning that the crime was dangerous for human life. Brian’s crime resulted in the death of Robert. (Georgia Code, 2013)
After Brian is tried on criminal charges in the murder of Robert, Robert’s family can bring a civil case against Brian because of the harm that he did to Robert. Brian is a wealthy doctor so Robert’s family can sue for compensation to be paid to them for Robert’s death. The civil case can be filed and handled in federal court.