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The current fad of true-crime series on TV and Netflix has people fascinated by the American legal system – or, if you want to be technical, the media’s portrayal of it. The suspense and courtroom drama had audiences glued to the screen, holding their breaths; waiting for the lawyers to prosecute the bad guys and bring everything to justice.

But apart from the few things you pick up while binge-watching those shows, do you really know how the law works? Do you understand the true meaning behind the terms you were hearing? Are you aware of the similarities and fundamental differences between civil and criminal law?

Truth be told, a lot of people don’t. And the thing is – you should. We all should. 

Civil Law vs. Criminal Law – The Basics

The key difference between civil and criminal law has something to do with the people who committed a wrong and the parties involved.

Civil law usually deals with private disputes between two entities, be it persons or organizations. Criminal law, on the other hand, sees cases involving actions that are considered to be of harm to society as a whole. They are regarded as offenses against the state and the federal government because they break an established criminal law.

While the aim of a criminal case is to punish offenders for their crimes, civil lawsuits are filed to get the offender to fulfill a legal duty or compensate for harm done. Civil cases typically involve matters like personal injury, small claims, or damage to property. Criminal cases, by contrast, deal with felonies and misdemeanors like theft, murder, and drunk driving among others.

Key Differences Between Civil and Criminal Laws

1. Filing of Case in Georgia

As criminal cases are offenses against the state, it is the state that takes legal action against these crimes. For criminal offenses, it is the prosecutor that acts on behalf of the state and files the case in court.

Conversely, civil cases seek amends or compensation for an individual who has been done wrong by another individual or entity. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, the plaintiff files a civil lawsuit against the defendant.

2. Burden of Proof in Georgia

Civil cases have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases. Crimes must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas civil cases are determined by standards such as the preponderance of the evidence. Essentially, this means that if something is more likely than not to have occurred in a certain way, then the case is proven.

The differences in standards of proof are in place because civil liabilities are considered less blameworthy and have less severe punishments.

3. Legal Protection and Representation in Georgia

Defendants under criminal law are afforded with plenty of protection, including those against illegal searches and seizures. The same protections – and a few others – are not available to the defendants in a civil case. 

Also, defendants in criminal cases have the right to an attorney. If it is beyond their means to afford one, the state is obligated to provide for them. Defendants in civil cases, however, don’t have this right. They have to afford their own representation.

4. Jury Trials in Georgia

It’s rare for criminal cases not to be tried by a jury, while the opposite goes for civil litigations. Although there are civil cases involving juries, most are decided by a judge.

5. Punishment in Georgia

Generally, civil lawsuits only result in monetary damage or injunctions, while criminal cases may involve both pecuniary punishment and jail or prison time. The penalties for criminal offenses vary in severity – including death.

Getting Legal Help

Suffice it to say; criminal law involves protecting the society and looking after public interest through the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. As for civil law, it has more to do with settling disputes due to harm, loss, or injury inflicted by one party to another.

But while there are several distinctions between the two, there are instances when conduct or incident can result in both criminal and civil liabilities. A personal injury lawyer would be helpful in civil law situations in helping determine the potential value of your claim. Still, only criminal offenses can be penalized with a prison sentence. 

That being said, anybody charged with a crime should find an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that all their rights are protected.