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What is the difference between criminal law and civil law?

September 3, 2009

Through movies, television crime dramas and news broadcasts, most people are familiar with the basics of criminal law. In general, though, people tend to know less about civil law and how civil cases work. There are major differences between criminal law and civil law, with each having its own set of procedures, laws and punishments.

Under civil law, a private party has the right to file a lawsuit against another party if one of their rights has been violated. The person filing the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person against whom the lawsuit is being brought is the defendant.

Only the government, however, has the ability to bring a criminal case. The government agent bringing the charges against an accused criminal is called the prosecution. The accused is known as the defendant in criminal cases as well.

Punishment marks one of the main differences between civil and criminal law. A person who is found guilty of committing a crime can be fined, put in prison or, in very rare cases, even sentenced to death.

In civil cases, on the other hand, the only “punishment” that can be meted out is to force the defendant to make legal restitution for the damages they have caused. Restitution simply means financial compensation. If the plaintiff wins their case, then the defendant must pay them a specified amount of money. Jail is never an option in civil cases.

If your rights have been violated by a person, organization, business or other legal entity, you should seek the immediate advice of a lawyer. A lawyer, such as those of the Fears | Nachawati law firm, can aid you in bringing a civil lawsuit to recover financial compensation for your losses.

To receive free legal advice about your potential claim, contact us today. One of the Texas personal injury lawyers of Fears | Nachawati will provide you with a no charge, no obligation consultation. You can email us at or call us on our toll-free number at 1.866.705.7584 for a free consultation.


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