Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases: How Do They Compare?

Lerner & Rowe Law Group
criminal cases
At Lerner and Rowe Law Group, we offer free initial consultations and affordable payment plans for criminal cases.

In the United States there are mainly two types of legal cases: civil cases and criminal cases. In both types of cases, there is a plaintiff and a defendant, but that is basically where the similarities end. However, each one has different laws, punishments, rules, and standards of proof. While you do not necessarily need an attorney in a civil suit, it is always in your best interest to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney in a criminal case. Below we will compare some of the key differences between civil and criminal cases.

Civil Cases

Civil cases usually involve private disputes between two parties, which can be individuals or entities. The plaintiff, or wronged party/victim, must show evidence demonstrating the defendant violated civil law. A judge makes the final decision in most civil cases, but a jury may also play a role in significant cases. Consequently, the plaintiff will receive compensation if the judge or jury finds the defendant liable.

Standard of Proof

In civil cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, who must produce enough evidence to prove their case. However, the law only requires a “preponderance of evidence,” which means more than 50% of the evidence must point to the fact that the defendant is liable.


If the defendant is found liable in a civil litigation, they are held financially liable for any injuries or damages suffered by the plaintiff and must pay compensation. While this compensation is usually monetary, it could be a court order to start or stop doing something. In particularly heinous cases, the court may award punitive damages as well.


Personal injury cases are civil cases. Other examples include breach of contract, defamation, negligence resulting in injury or death, malpractice, and property damage.

A single wrongful act may constitute both a private injury and a public offense, so you could receive both civil and criminal charges in some cases.

Criminal Cases

Criminal law involves actions deemed harmful to society as a whole. As a result, only the government (the plaintiff) can bring criminal charges against a defendant. A jury will almost always decide the outcome of criminal cases. The main objectives of criminal law are to punish wrongdoers and deter them and others from committing the same or similar crimes. Depending on the severity of the crime, you are charged with a misdemeanor for minor infractions or a felony for more serious crimes.

Standard of Proof

Because of the defendant’s presumption of innocence, “innocent until proven guilty,” there is a significantly higher burden of proof. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Therefore, if the jury has any reasonable uncertainty of the defendant’s guilt, the defendant must be acquitted. Jury members must agree unanimously of the defendant’s innocence or guilt.


A guilty verdict in a criminal case can lead to a variety of penalties. The severity of these penalties depends on whether the crime was a misdemeanor or a felony. Fines and possible jail sentences are less severe for misdemeanors. However, in felony cases, the accused could face significant fines and/or restitution, imprisonment, probation, or a combination of all three. For particularly heinous crimes, the punishment could be just as severe as the crime committed.


Criminal law includes everything from minor assault to murder. Other examples include drunk driving (DUI), drug possession, kidnapping, rape, arson, burglary, and armed robbery. Here is a more complete list of Arizona criminal offenses.

If you can afford to hire your own criminal attorney, find the best criminal defense attorney with the right legal experience and a lengthy track record of successfully defending criminal cases like yours.

Hire Top Phoenix Criminal Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges in Phoenix, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Lerner and Rowe Law Group. We offer free initial consultations and affordable payment plans for criminal cases. You can visit our office from 8 AM to 5 PM, contact us via LiveChat or call us 24/7 at 602-667-7777. So, don’t put it off any longer. Contact us today!

The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.