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Civil v. Criminal Laws

Most people understand the criminal law system from news and TV programs.  But fewer know of the separate civil law system that can help victims get monetary compensation from those who hurt them.  Often, victims' best results comes from civil claims. The list below explains differences between criminal and civil law.  If you are a crime victim, click here to ask for a free evaluation and learn whether you have rights to pursue civil claims.

1. Purpose: The criminal system is designed to punish criminals. The civil system is designed to help the victim.


2. How to start: Criminal cases usually start with a police report. Civil cases usually start when a victim contacts a civil law attorney.


3. Who controls the case: Government prosecutors control criminal cases. Victims and their lawyers control civil cases.


4. Standard of proof: Criminal guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," a very difficult standard. Civil liability is shown by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means more likely than not.  In other words, it's much easier to prove civil liability than criminal guilt. 


5. Defendants' rights: In criminal law, defendants have the right to a state-paid defense attorney and the right to remain silent. In civil law, a defendant must pay his or her own attorney and cannot avoid a judgment by remaining silent.


6. Possible outcomes: In criminal law, defendants might get jail time or probation. In civil law, the liable defendant must pay money to the victim for the physical, emotional, and financial harm they caused. 


7. Who pays attorney: In criminal law, the government pays the prosecutor. In civil law, the victim hires a private attorney or handles the case on their own. Attorneys working with Victim Law Center usually work on a "contingency" basis, meaning we do not get paid unless the victim recovers money, and then we only get a percentage of what the victim recovers. 

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