Should I File a Civil Case or a Criminal?
The simple answer to this question is that there is no simple answer.
There are many examples of when both may actually take place.
For example, if you are hit by a drunk driver and injured. Most likely, the state will prosecute the drunk driver for the criminal act of driving while intoxicated and you can then sue the drunk driver for civil remedies for your injuries resulting from the accident.
Another example is if someone is arrested and charged with the murder of another. The family of the victim may sue the defendant in civil court for wrongful death even if the defendant is found innocent in a criminal court.
The burden of proof is significantly less in a civil case than in a criminal. In some circumstances, the civil case may not be about financial gain but to have a court of law say that the person was guilty of causing the death of the family’s loved one.
Civil vs. Criminal: Do I Have a Choice?
The issue here is that anyone can walk into a police station and accuse another of a crime but it doesn’t mean that anything will come of it.
If you walk into a police station and say someone assaults, you the police will investigate the alleged crime and determine whether or not to file formal charges against a suspect.
Just like criminal cases, civil cases are much the same, anyone can walk into a lawyer’s office and sue another for one thing or another, but a good lawyer will investigate the case first to see if it has any merit.
In both cases, the alleged crime or civil matter will be investigated before any further action is brought against another.
The exception to this is if you file a case in small claims court.
Anyone can file a case in small claims court against another person or business if the claim is less than a certain dollar amount. These cases are usually brought by a person against another or a business and you have to do all the paperwork and file on your own. Small claims are usually resolved in one court appearance.
As always you should consult an attorney when facing criminal or civil charges. If you are seeking legal remedy of some sort you should also consider consulting a lawyer.
What Are the Criteria for Filing Criminal Charges Against Another?
Most criminal proceedings begin with something that is known as probable cause.
Probable cause is determining whether or not the suspect may have committed the crime. Usually, the police investigate an alleged crime using investigation tools like witness interviews, and gathering evidence such as video surveillance, expert reports, and physical evidence.
Police will use a pre-trial investigation to look into any criminal activity to determine if there is enough evidence to carry out an arrest and eventually bring charges.
If there is enough evidence to charge a suspect with a crime, the police will bring the evidence to the district attorney and they will ultimately decide on whether or not to charge someone with a crime.
The two other ways that someone can be charged is with a citation or summons.
Citations or a ticket are given for minor illegal behavior like a traffic ticket or jaywalking citation. These are given out by the police and will require you to plead guilty and pay the fine or go to court and try and fight the ticket. These are usually smaller infractions that only require paying a fine and have no effect on a criminal record.
The other way that criminal charges may be brought against someone is through grand jury proceedings.
Grand jury proceedings are usually held in secret with only the district attorney and police in attendance.
A grand jury is a pool of people who will receive evidence presented and determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges. Not all cases involve a grand jury. They are usually reserved for high-profile cases.
So to have a criminal case filed against someone, there must be evidence of a crime.
You can however be investigated by the police at any time and even charged with a criminal offense even if you have not committed the crime. That’s why anytime someone is even suspected of a crime you should speak with a lawyer.
Over the years, numerous individuals have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced for crimes they did not commit.
Criteria to File a Civil Case
There are primarily two key distinctions between criminal cases and civil cases:
- Criminal cases are brought by the police and district attorney after investigating an alleged crime. Civil cases are disputes between two parties rather than a violation of criminal law. However, civil cases can be the outcome of a crime, like the previous drunk driving example.
- The required evidence required to convict in criminal court is much bigger than in civil court. In civil court, the preponderance of the evidence is the burden of proof. This means that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the act or negligence that caused harm to the other party. In criminal cases, the proof is on the state or district attorney to prove guilt of the criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases means you are firmly convinced the defendant is guilty of the criminal that they are charged with.
Let’s look into some examples to further understand the difference between criminal and civil cases:
Example #1: Murder
If an individual is charged with murder and found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or if the jury is not firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt, the same defendant, who was acquitted in criminal court, may still be found liable in civil court for the same murder.
In a very famous murder case, the defendant or suspect was found not guilty in criminal court of murder. However, the family of the murder victim took the suspected murderer to civil court by filing a suit against them for the wrongful death of their loved one.
In the wrongful death suit against the murder suspect, the defendant was found guilty of the victim’s death and ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution. The victim’s family never received any of the money they were awarded by the court.
The family just wanted the court to acknowledge in some way that the defendant was guilty of causing the death of their loved one.
The civil case was able to be settled with the preponderance of the evidence or the fact it was most likely that the defendant did in fact cause the death of another even though they were acquitted in criminal court.
Example #2: Negligence
In other cases, someone may pursue a civil case before a criminal case is even investigated.
This can happen when a group or person files a civil lawsuit against a company for negligence leading to injury or death.
For example, a chemical company knowingly makes a product that causes people to get sick that live in the area of their production plant.
The people living in the area believe that the chemical company is guilty of causing their illnesses.
They seek out a lawyer who investigates and finds cause for a civil lawsuit against the chemical company.
After the civil case has begun, the district attorney in the area begins to look into the case as well and discovers that the chemical company has committed some crimes that have led to the illnesses of others. The district attorney can file criminal charges against the chemical company and its officers if enough evidence exists.
In this scenario, it is advisable to consult a civil or personal injury attorney who can assess your case and determine the feasibility of filing a civil suit against another party for negligence or breach of duty. It is important to note that in certain instances, a civil suit may still be pursued even if the party in question has been acquitted in criminal court.
Not Sure What to Do Next? Call The Defenders
If you have been accused of a crime or are involved in a civil suit, and in some cases both, it is highly advisable to reach out and consult with a skilled attorney. Their expertise and guidance can greatly benefit your situation.
You never want to be on that side of the law or the court where you need to defend yourself needlessly if you are not guilty.
Getting caught up in the criminal or civil court system can have a major effect on your life while the cases against you play out.
This can include the loss of employment, loss of a residence if you’re a renter and loss of your good reputation.
Being accused of a crime or facing a civil lawsuit can have significant financial and emotional consequences. It is crucial to never navigate these situations alone.
Having legal experts on your side during criminal or civil proceedings can protect your rights and if you are not guilty get the charges or the case dropped.
The Defenders is a criminal defense firm with offices in Las Vegas and Reno. Our team of experienced attorneys has a track record of successfully handling all types of criminal and civil cases, including DUI/DWI, drug charges, domestic violence, and more.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are facing any legal troubles, contact The Defenders today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn how we can help defend your rights and protect your future.