Criminal Law and Civil Law-Definition

  • Criminal Law

Criminal law refers to a system of laws created to punish an individual accused of committing a criminal activity against a nation, state, or individuals. Criminal law can differ based on the jurisdiction of a particular state. Some states may consider certain criminal offenses as major while other American states may consider them minor offenses. Generally, criminal cases can be categorized as either a misdemeanor or felony. 

  • Civil Law

Civil law is concerned with areas that come under the non-criminal category. Mostly, civil law deals with disputes related to property or settling monetary matters. Civil law refers to the rights or interests of the individual that have been breached by another company or individual. 

If a civil case goes to court, then the participants will be called the parties. Civil law is often categorized under four fields, namely contract law, property law, tort law, and family law.

Breaking the differences between Criminal Law and Civil Law

Criminal law and civil law both deal with a mistake committed by one party against another party. One of the primary differences between criminal law and civil law is that criminal cases are filed by the officials of the state whereas civil law cases involve private organizations or individuals. There are many key differences between the two, including the following areas:

  • Conduct at issue
  • Punishments
  • Statute of limitations
  • Burden of proof
  • Initiation of the case
  • Appeals process

Conduct at Issue

The laws for criminal and civil sectors may be different. The conduct at issue is often different as well. For criminal cases, the conduct at issue is much more severe as compared to the conduct at issue in civil law. 

Some examples of criminal law cases are homicide, conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice, and possession of a controlled substance. Defamation, custody disputes, bankruptcy, breach of contract, and property damage are examples of civil law matters.


The type of penalty or punishments given for civil and criminal law cases also differ. In civil cases, if one party loses, there is no possibility that they will go to jail. The outcome of the judgment can be a financial penalty or the accused may have to change their behavior. However, in criminal cases, if the defendant loses, then they may have to face probation or incarceration.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is the time frame within which one party files a lawsuit or a claim against the accused. The rules are created with the intent to protect the innocent from any unreasonable demands. Every state has its own rules and guidelines. The time frame for a civil case is often different from that of a criminal case.

Burden of proof

A burden of proof is an obligation that will back up any claim or will prove the claim that is being made. There is a significant difference in the burden of proof between the criminal case and the civil case. There are severe penalties that are imposed in criminal cases as compared to civil cases. As a result, there is a higher burden of proof in criminal cases and a lower burden of proof in civil cases.

Initiation of the case

One of the differences between civil and criminal laws is who will initiate the case. In civil law, almost anyone can file a case. However, there are some laws in place to prevent strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), which impact who may file a civil case. In criminal cases, the government initiates the case on the victim’s behalf as they work in coordination with law enforcement agencies. A punishment is given to the offender if they are found guilty by the court. 

Appeals Process

What is the difference between criminal law and civil law In the justice system of the United States, it is important to analyze whether the ruling of the court is appealable or not. An appeal can generally be filed in both civil and criminal cases.

For criminal cases, the grounds for an appeal are much narrower as compared to civil cases. The main reason for this is that a criminal conviction can lead to imprisonment, which is a fundamental deprivation of liberty. Civil cases, on the other hand, do not have such severe consequences.

If you have to appeal a ruling for a criminal case then you can seek guidance from a Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer.