Saturday, March 17, 2007

What is the difference between civil & criminal litigation?

Civil litigation involves a law suit between people or entities claiming an alleged wrong or breach of duty that was owed. The party brining the lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The plaintiff has to prove the claim by a preponderance of the evidence. The defendant (in family law cases this person is called the respondent) if found liable, is usually ordered to pay monetary damages. In criminal litigation, the plaintiff is always a government entity. In state cases, the plaintiff is the State of Texas. The District Attorney's Office handles state crimes. An individual cannot have you arrested. The individual claiming an injury would go to the police and file a complaint. The individual would be a witness against you in court. In federal cases, the plaintiff is the United States of America. The United States Attorney's Office handles federal crimes. The alleged wrong must be a crime as defined by the legislature, the State or the United States. The plaintiff must prove the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard than preponderance of the evidence. If the defendant is found guilty, he/she may be ordered to pay monetary penalities, but can also be sentence to probation, community service or imprisonment. Federal criminal cases include things like drugs, fraud, willful tax violations, child pornogrpahy on the internet, and immigration offencses (hiding an alien, marrying an alien for money so he/she can get a green card or alien smuggling). State criminal cases include things like murder, sexual assault, robbery, burglary. There might be an overlap where the person has committed a federal and a state crime. The best example of civil versus criminal litigation is the O J Simpson case. He was found not guilty of the murders because the burden of proof on the State is beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury had doubts. However, in the civil case, he was found guilty and ordered to pay the families millions of dollars. Writing a hot check could be a civil or a criminal crime. It depends on the facts of your case. If you write a check on a closed bank account, it is criminal. If you write a check on an account and you have money in the bank but for some reason the check bounces, that is probably civil. Borrowing an autombile could be a civil or criminal crime. For example, I'd want to have permission in writing from the owner of the vehicle - the person listed on the title of the vehicle. I would not drive a car unless I knew that it was fully insured and that I had permission of all owners of the vehicle. Just remember, you will have to retain the services of an attorney in order to fight a civil or ciminal case. It much cheaper to be careful and not take chances. Lastly, rememberThe United States does not have debtor's prisons.

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