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How to Distinguish Civil law and Criminal law?

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Understanding civil and criminal law, and identifying the actual differences between both of them is very important for citizens, lawyers, and Civil aspirants preparing for IAS. Civil law identifies behavior that has an injury to an individual or other private party like a corporation. On another hand, criminal law deals with behavior that can be construed as an offense against the public, society, or state even if the immediate victim is an individual.

Even though both civil law and criminal laws have identical features, they can be distinguished by the legal procedures involved, the burden of proof, and the potential penalties for the defendant. 

Let’s see step by step process to distinguish civil and criminal law:

Evaluate Legal Procedures

1-Find out parties to the case

In evaluating legal procedures, it is important to identify who started the proceeding. In civil cases, most of the complainants are private businesses or a individual person. However, criminal cases start when government representatives file charges.

-If the title of the case lists the name of individuals, or organizations it is clearly a civil case.

-It does not submit your inquiry, as sometimes government can either sue or be sued. Only the involvement of the government party can’t decide that it is a criminal case.

Also Read: What is PIL (Public Interest Litigation)?

-In criminal cases in which the name of defendants will be the first since they appealed a conviction. Government is the leading party in this case. 

2- Check whether the defendant of the case was arrested

A person is not arrested even for a heinous offense as people sue them in civil court. Some offenses like assault, showcase the possibility of both civil liability and criminal charges. In case the defendant is arrested, it is in conjunction with the filing of criminal charges.

-Usually, persons with civil law violations can be held in contempt of court, and arrested for contempt if they deny following the order of the court. They are released when they obey the order.

-Suppose some residents complain against an industry for polluting the water and air of the area causing health and safety issues. In this condition, the owner of the industry can’t be arrested as he/she has not been sued with a criminal charge.

-If the owner of the industry is found responsible to cause damage to neighbors, and is being directed by the government to clean the water, he/she can be put in jail in violation of the order.

3- Identify the harm of law violation

The type and level of harm to the society decide by the actions of the defendant decide whether it comes under civil lawsuit or criminal matter. 

-Some crimes cause harm to individuals where the victim is not a party in a criminal case. In most cases, the victim is not required to agree to the defendant’s criminal prosecution. Regardless of the victim’s wishes, state or federal prosecutors press criminal charges.

Also Read: How to Become A Lawyer in India: A Complete Guide

-Remember, in many situations the victim can say to the complainant that they do not want to press charges, and the complainant goes along with the reference.

-The complainant can press charges even when the victim realizes they do not want to do it.

-Civil cases are taken by the prosecutor who wants compensation for some misleading done to them.

4-Legal protection for the respondent

If anyone is charged with some constitutional rights, and he/she is not capable to afford an advocate,  the court appoints one. 

-Criminal defendants possess a number of other constitutional protections, if they are found guilty, there will be a potential loss of freedom. Most of the civil cases involve paying money that is a comparatively lesser threat than the loss of liberty.

-This privilege against self-incrimination can be used in a civil trial since something spoken in the civil trial may be used against the person in criminal prosecution. The privilege of self-incrimination, however, does not apply to confessions of facts that could lead to civil responsibility.

Classify the Burden of Proof

1- Determine the applicable burden of proof

You may be familiar with the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” when it comes to the criminal burden of proof. Plaintiffs in civil disputes are never required to establish their cases with such certainty.

  • In a civil action, the normal burden of proof is “preponderance of the evidence.” This means the prosecutor must show that the defendant is more than likely to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries or losses.
  • In contrast, in order for a defendant to be found guilty in a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she committed the offense. The criminal justice system is founded on the principle that no one’s life or liberty should be taken from them unless they are certain they are guilty.

Also Read: What is an Employee Bond Agreement?

2- Compare burdens for affirmative defenses

Affirmative defenses are essentially justifications that, if established, would clear the defendant of guilt or liability. While defendants in both civil and criminal trials have the burden of demonstrating any affirmative defense, the weight of those duties differs significantly.

-Most people are aware of affirmative defenses in criminal proceedings, such as the insanity defense. Because the defendant must prove that they were unable of discerning between right and evil or understanding the outcomes of their acts, being declared not guilty by reason of insanity can be significantly more difficult than just casting doubt on the state’s case.

-When a criminal defendant establishes an affirmative defense, he or she is usually found not guilty. Similarly, a civil defendant who successfully advances an affirmative defense may be ruled not liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiff.

3- Understand how burdens shift

There are some civil cases that use a proof mechanism that shifts all concerns of proof between defendant and complainant. If a complainant is able to reveal specific facts, it makes assumptions in advance favoring the complainant and shifts the burden of proof to the defendant.

  • Let’s take the example of copyright infringement law. If the complainant has registered copyright, so he/she holds the legal authority to sue him in court. In case the defendant wants to argue the validity of the copyright, he/she has to bear the burden of proof.

-Such a burden-shifting concept isn’t applicable in criminal cases as it will violate the constitutional rights of the defendant.

Also Read: How to deal with cybercrime in India?

Compare Consequences

1-Find if the defendant faces jail time

Generally, courts can’t penalize the civil defendant with jail for their actions, no matter how harmful. On the contrary, criminal offenses may have jail sentences based on the seriousness of the matter. 

-While a civil defendant can be jailed for contempt, the allegation of contempt usually necessitates a separate hearing when the person is formally charged with contempt. They have the option of complying with the court’s order or going to jail. 

-A civil defendant, on the other hand, will not face jail time if their civil lawsuit is lost. A judge cannot send you to jail if you are sued by a credit card company for defaulting on your credit card and you lose your case.

-The credit card company will obtain an order against you for the amount owed, which it will be able to enforce by placing liens on your property or garnishing your wages but not by putting you in jail.

-A person guilty of a crime, on the other hand, maybe sentenced to prison for a length of time until their “debt to society” has been satisfied.

2.Understand the difference between fines, restitution, and monetary damages

Although a defendant may be forced to pay money in a criminal prosecution, these sums are not the same as financial damages awarded in a civil case.

-In most cases, a criminal fine must be paid to the state, whereas civil damages must be paid to the complainant.

Also Read: How does taxation of Digital Assets apply in India?

-Any losses incurred by anyone as a result of the defendant’s acts have no bearing on criminal fines. They are instead intended to punish the offender for breaking the law.

3.Consider the purpose of the outcome of the purpose

In the end, a criminal trial is intended to punish someone who has committed a crime, but a civil trial is intended to compensate the victim for their losses caused by the wrongdoings of one particular individual or business.

The ideas of guilt and innocence are used in criminal law, whereas negligence and liability are used in civil law. A civil defendant can be held accountable for a plaintiff’s damages caused by an accident without the plaintiff having to show that the defendant intended to cause the injuries or losses.

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