What Are the Main Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases?

Mar 28, 2022

Civil lawsuits happen when one party sues another for damages or relief. Civil cases can be brought for a diverse array of potential reasons ranging from personal injuries or contract disputes to evictions and child custody battles.

If you’re being summoned to court in a civil law case, you’re not being charged with a crime. If the plaintiff ends up winning their case, you’re likely to have to pay damages or abide by whatever legal remedy is prescribed in the civil ruling.

Criminal cases are often more serious than civil lawsuits. They usually start out with the defendant being arrested and charged by the government with a crime, such as murder, assault, rape, arson or robbery. A criminal court, including a judge and jury, decides the defendant’s fate (if they don’t reach a plea agreement beforehand). Consequences of a criminal trial may include things like probation, jail time or even the death penalty.

It’s important to distinguish the different goals of civil versus criminal cases. The fundamental goal of civil law cases is for the plaintiff to receive financial compensation (damages), restitution or some kind of remedy to right the wrongs of the defendant. The main goals of criminal cases are to punish the party who’s committed a crime, discourage future criminal behavior and protect public safety.

How Are Civil Cases Handled in Georgia?

People tend to file civil cases to solve a dispute that’s reached a stalemate. Common types of civil cases include:

  • Personal injuries from car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, etc.
  • Housing and tenant disputes, such as evictions or foreclosures
  • Contract disputes
  • Family law issues like child support, child custody or alimony disputes
  • Workers’ compensation claims
  • Civil rights or free speech violations

The plaintiff is responsible for filing their lawsuit and proving their case by presenting compelling evidence that supports their claim.

Civil cases can only be filed within a certain timeframe, also known as the statute of limitations. Under Georgia law, personal injury plaintiffs typically have two years from the date of injury to file a personal injury claim.

Damages awarded in a personal injury case may include things like past and ongoing medical bills, lost wages, retroactive benefit pay, child support arrears, compensation for emotional distress and more.

Criminal cases do not include damages for victims. Restitution may be a part of a criminal penalty, but it’s often limited. If the victim of a crime wants to seek damages for things like lost wages or pain and suffering due to criminal actions, they will need to file their own civil case against the defendant.

How Are Criminal Cases Handled in Georgia?

For a criminal case to happen, a state attorney or prosecutor must first bring charges. It’s not possible for the victim to unilaterally initiate criminal proceedings, although their truthful testimony can serve as compelling evidence in a criminal investigation and trial.

The state is also responsible for proving their case, which involves gathering and showcasing evidence, interviewing witnesses, cooperating with police, etc. The prosecution’s job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged crime.

Statute of limitations for crimes in Georgia are significantly different than the statute of limitations for civil cases. Particularly serious crimes such as murder and in some cases felony rape, kidnapping or armed robbery are subject to no statute of limitations. Others have a statute of limitations ranging from two years (misdemeanors) to up to 15 years (rape).

Can a Case Be Both Civil and Criminal?

Criminal cases can prompt a civil lawsuit and vice versa. It’s most common for a convicted criminal to be subject to a civil case. In relatively rare circumstances the evidence from a civil case may lead to the state bringing separate criminal charges.

For instance, a family who lost their loved one due to crime may seek financial compensation for the expenses and suffering they endured through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Civil Case?

While it’s technically possible to file a civil lawsuit without the help of an attorney, it’s rarely attempted and even more rarely successful. Plaintiffs who are serious about winning compensation or relief almost always seek out representation from an experienced civil trial attorney.

It’s important to look for a lawyer who has relevant trial experience and won’t hesitate to fight for you in court and help you recover the damages you’re owed.

There’s more diversity in civil law practice areas than criminal law practice areas. Attorneys who represent people injured in car accidents and slip and falls likely don’t represent businesses in contract disputes. If you need to file a civil case, look for an attorney with experience in the appropriate practice areas.

Thinking About Filing a Personal Injury Civil Lawsuit in Atlanta?

At the Dressie Law Firm, our injury lawyers are well versed in the intricacies of personal injury civil law. If you’re looking for a lawyer who is willing to relentlessly fight on your behalf and pursue the compensation you deserve, look no further.

Call (770) 756-633 to schedule your free case evaluation.