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How Can You Lose Criminal Case But Win Civil Trial?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Have you ever wondered how a defendant can be tried in both civil and criminal courts? Take, for example, the recent $3 million judgment against Arizona self-help guru James Arthur Ray. He is already serving time in jail after being found guilty of negligent homicide. The $3 million settlement was in response to civil lawsuits filed by some victims' families.

Civil and criminal cases do have marked differences. In certain situations, a civil case's burden of proof is lower, making it more likelihood that plaintiffs prevail in civil court.

There's an infamous example we all remember: the OJ Simpson case. Simpson was acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. In his civil trial, he was found liable for their wrongful death.

So what exactly is the difference between a civil suit and a criminal suit?

  • Criminal cases are tried by prosecutors and the state. By their nature, criminal cases are considered offenses against the state or society as a whole. Civil cases, on the other hand, are not.
  • The burden of proof is usually different. Crimes typically need to be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." Civil charges usually require a lower burden of proof.
  • Juries are typically required in criminal cases. Many civil cases will be adjudicated only by a judge, not a jury.
  • There is no right to an attorney in a civil case. Defendants sued in civil cases typically need to provide an attorney themselves. In criminal cases, the state will provide an attorney if the defendant cannot afford one.

In many situations, similar actions can result in both civil and criminal charges. "Assault" and "battery," for instance, are often covered under a state's civil statutes and criminal codes.

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