What is the difference between a civil case and a criminal case?

Becoming a crime victim can impact your life negatively—mentally, physically, and financially. Knowing the differences between civil and criminal cases can be critical. Some victims of crime receive restitution in criminal lawsuits. However, not all qualify; and restitution is not available when a defendant is acquitted.

Victims could be entitled to compensation with a civil case even when a defendant is not convicted in criminal proceedings. Other advantages of civil cases can include:

  • The burden of proof is lower
  • Family members can recover damages with a wrongful death claim
  • Victims could hold multiple defendants accountable in a civil case

Morgan & Morgan is here for victims and their families. We can assess your case, identify your options, and fight hard for what you deserve. Contact us today for a free case review to determine your legal options.

What are The Critical Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases?

While civil law differs substantially from criminal law, both can overlap when an individual suffers injuries and damages due to a crime, such as an attack or assault.
However, the key differences between civil and criminal cases include:

Civil Cases

Private persons and businesses typically initiate civil claims. Civil cases do not necessarily deal with one party breaking the law, although they may. Examples of common civil cases include, among others:

  • Small claims disputes between individuals or companies
  • Contractual breaches
  • Personal injury claims
  • Property damage claims
  • Family law cases, including child custody, divorce, and others
  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Estate matters and conservatorships

In civil claims, unlike in criminal cases, the parties usually have no right to a court-appointed lawyer. Therefore, those involved in civil action either hire an attorney or have to represent themselves in court.  

Standard of Proof

A crucial difference between civil and criminal cases is the standard of proof required. In civil cases, the plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) must show a “preponderance of evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence” to win their case. In other words, one side’s version of events and evidence is more convincing than the other. In contrast, in a criminal case, the state must prove that the defendant is guilty of committing the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a stronger standard than those applied in civil claims.

Criminal Cases

Perhaps the most significant difference between a criminal and a civil case is that victims never bring criminal cases. The government is generally responsible for prosecuting criminals. In federal crimes, the United States Attorney’s Office usually prosecutes, while the relevant district attorney handles state crimes. The three main types of criminal cases include:

1. Infractions

Infractions are minor violations of the law, typically involving a fine. They almost always involve lesser traffic offenses, such as failing to use a turn signal, jaywalking, or failing to wear a seatbelt.

2. Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are more serious crimes, including theft, domestic violence, driving under the influence, prostitution, and trespassing. Perpetrators of misdemeanors can incur fines and jail time.

3. Felonies

Felonies are the most serious crimes, such as burglary, rape, murder, kidnapping, and arson. Felonies carry severe punishments. Felons could get the death penalty for major crimes.

Could You Sue After a Criminal Case?

Although private persons cannot bring criminal cases, the law recognizes that victims deserve to recover damages they suffered due to being victimized. While victims sometimes receive restitution, they typically must file a civil case against the defendant to recover the total worth of their damages. Victims generally have the right to file a civil and sue for damages once a criminal case has concluded.

Morgan & Morgan Could Help

We understand that as a victim of crime, the last thing you want is to fight a potentially lengthy court battle with an uncertain outcome. Filing a civil claim can be challenging when a defendant has already gone through criminal proceedings. However, it may be the only way to assert your rights, protect your interests, and receive the compensation you truly deserve. Morgan & Morgan can be by your side every step of the way, handling your civil lawsuit from start to finish.

What are Examples of Civil Claims Filed by Crime Victims?

For most crimes, there is a corresponding civil action that allows victims to recover compensation. While there can be various examples of such civil lawsuits, cases we frequently see in our practice include:


Negligence occurs when a person suffers injuries or other damages due to another’s carelessness. Examples can include traffic accidents due to reckless driving, speeding, or alcohol misuse. However, criminal negligence can also occur in a multitude of other situations, such as:

  • Nursing home abuse and neglect
  • Dog bites and animal attacks
  • Boating and aviation accidents
  • Dangerous and defective products

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death lawsuits allow the families of victims to recover damages from the death of their loved ones. Criminal cases that could lead to a wrongful death civil claim can include attacks and assaults resulting in death, murder, vehicular homicides, and others.

Assault and Battery

Examples of assault and battery leading to civil lawsuits can include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Malicious wounding
  • Domestic violence
  • Assaults at work
  • Attempted murder

If you are the victim of a crime, having the support of a dedicated attorney can be crucial for navigating the legal process and preserving your chances of recovery. Therefore, your next best step after a criminal case is filed should be to consult an experienced attorney and determine your legal options.

Morgan & Morgan Fights Hard for Victims of Crime

Our motivated attorneys want you to have the best chance of winning compensation with a civil case. Morgan & Morgan can be here for you during the most challenging time in your life. We have helped countless crime victims recover the compensation they needed to rebuild their lives. We want to help you too.

You don’t pay a dime upfront when we take your case. Contact us now for a free and confidential consultation to find out how you could get justice and compensation.