Criminal and Civil Law

Criminal and Civil Law

Criminal and Civil Law

The civil court system refers to the process through which civil law suits are adjudicated, with the main bone of contention in most cases being a violation of civil rights. This process usually differs greatly to the criminal process, as not only are juries rare, but in most cases the process is initiated by individuals or organizations, whereas in criminal cases the government usually initiates proceedings. In most cases, civil actions result in personal benefit to the individual, with the suit arising due to individual or organizational disagreements, although at times governments or its subdivisions may be party to civil suits (Ides & May, 2006). The processes also differ in terms of the penalties imposed by the courts; in criminal courts, the penalties include fines, prison sentences, execution, and other punishments such as probation, civil courts usually impose fines, either simply to reimburse damages caused, or to act as punitive damages and therefore by extension discourage any similar behavior by others in the future (Burke, 2006). In essence, these fines are not designed to punish the wrong doer, but rather to compensate for damage done, as well as to discourage any such future behavior.

Civil penalties differ from criminal penalties in the sense that they are not designed to punish as opposed to penalties under criminal law, but rather to compensate. As such, these penalties usually expressly involve imposition of fines as well as other penalties, but no prison sentences (Scheb, 2002). Further, even though both civil penalties and criminal punishments take into account the harm done, and punishment or penalties are meted out proportional to the harm done, civil penalties also take into account what the perpetrator stands to gain, as well as a number of other factors. For instance, if a manufacturer violates a section, the penalty is calculated based on the savings the business made through the violation, any previous history of such violations, the size of their business, the effect the penalty will have on their ability to continue with business, as well as any efforts the business made to rectify the violation. Civil penalties are therefore imposed in most cases with only the victim in mind, with penalties imposed being aimed at rectifying the wrong done to them, or compensating them for it, whereas criminal punishments are simply focused on the wrong done and punishing the perpetrator for the crime. In addition, it is fair to say, based on the descriptions above, that the imposition of civil penalties is therefore a much more elaborate process than criminal punishments, as a number of factors have to be taken into account. In civil cases, the level of proof is quite low and falls on the plaintiff, compared to criminal cases in which the burden of proof squarely falls on the state and is quite high (“beyond reasonable doubt”)

Further, civil courts may also impose other penalties, such as requiring the individual or organization to remedy their mistake, impose community orders, such that the individual is forced to provide unpaid labor, disqualify an individual from being able to act in a given capacity (Moxon & Hedderman, 1994).

In cases where both the criminal court system and the civil court systemare involved, the punishments should not correlate in any way. This is based on the fact that these two processes are essentially aimed at achieving different objectives (Johns, 2006). Civil proceedings focus on rectifying the damages done and compensating the individual or organization harmed (victim), while criminal proceedings are aimed at punishing the perpetrator for his/ her actions, thereby also discouraging any similar behavior. The punishments or penalties imposed by these two systems cannot be related, as criminal punishments cannot substitute for civil penalties, while civil penalties cannot substitute for criminal punishment.


Burke, P. (2006). The Criminal Law, And Its Sentences, In Treasons, Felonies, and Misdemeanors: WithA Supplement Including All Statutable Alterations And Additions Down To The Present Time.Oxford University Press.

Ides, A. & May, C. (2006). Civil Procedure: Cases and Problems. Aspen Publishers.

Johns, M. (2006). The United States Legal System: An Introduction. Carolina Academic Press

Moxon, D. & Hedderman C. (1994). Mode of Trial Decisions and Sentencing Differencesbetween Courts. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 33(2), 97-108

Scheb, J. (2002). An Introduction to the American Legal System. Cengage Learning.

“U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, Frequently Asked

Questions”. Retrieved from