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Important Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases in Maryland

The court system in the United States is divided up between the civil and criminal justice systems. While they might seem similar in some ways, there are some notable differences. These differences primarily revolve around:

  • Who can file a lawsuit or bring charges;
  • The punishment and applicable laws; and
  • What the burden of proof is.

In some scenarios, there may be an accompanying civil action to a criminal case. They are not the same thing nor are they necessarily dependent on each other. This means someone can be found not guilty in a criminal case but found liable in a civil case.

Burden of Proof

In a criminal matter, the burden of proof is much higher. With civil cases, you only need to find someone liable by a “preponderance of the evidence.” With a criminal case, the jury has to believe “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. In the event the jury has reasonable uncertainty, then they are required to acquit. Since the burden of proof is lower in a civil case, you may hear of cases in which the defendant was found not guilty in the criminal matter but made to pay a hefty sum in a civil case.

Types of Punishments Available

The types of available punishments vary between criminal and civil cases. Generally, civil cases conclude with a financial award for reimbursement of damages the victim sustained in the incident. In criminal cases, the punishment usually involves jail or prison time, a fine, and/or probation. There is no civil case in which the jury awards jail time. Any fine issued in a criminal matter is typically labeled as restitution.

Financial compensation in a civil case typically involves damages to cover expenses like medical treatment, hospital bills, lost earnings, physical damages to an automobile, etc. General, or non-economic, damages are awarded for pain and suffering. In select civil cases, you might see an award for punitive damages, where the court feels the defendant’s behavior was so outrageous or egregious to warrant them. An example of this might be someone who engages in drag racing or gets behind the wheel after drinking all night.

Parties Involved

In a civil case, the dispute is usually between people or businesses, and the basis for the complaint is financial compensation or some type of performance (like with a breach of contract) owed to one side. The lawsuit can be filed by an individual or company.

With a criminal case, a crime is an offense that is seen as an act against society as a whole. In a criminal case, it is the government that brings charges against the defendant. The state or federal government is represented by the government attorney in charge for prosecuting cases in that jurisdiction.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If you are facing a criminal charge, it is important to retain a Maryland criminal defense attorney. If you need to file a civil case against someone else for a breach of contract or for an auto accident that was not your fault, it is still important to retain a Maryland personal injury attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Robert R. Castro at 301-705-5137 for all your personal injury and criminal defense needs.