Civil v Criminal- Burden of Proof?
What is the difference between a civil case and a criminal case? In general, a civil case is designed to settle disputes between private parties. A criminal case seeks to take action against an individual for commission of a criminal offense on behalf of society. Criminal cases are brought on behalf of The People of the State or The People of the United States (in cases of a federal jurisdiction) Civil cases are between two private parties, individuals, corporations or government entities.
One of the major distinctions between a civil and a criminal case is the Burden of Proof required to prove each case. In the case of a criminal trial, the accused can only be found guilty if it is shown they have committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A reasonable doubt is defined as a doubt based on an actual valid reason. It must be more than an imaginary doubt and it is often defined judicially as such doubt as would cause a reasonable person to hesitate before acting in a matter of importance. In a criminal case, the absence of all doubt whatsoever is not required, but the proof must show that the accused committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The reasonable doubt standard in a criminal case is the highest burden of proof that must be met in our courts. This is because, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest standard of proof is grounded on “a fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free.” In contrast, in a civil proceeding, the burden of proof is based on the “preponderance of evidence.” Meaning, to prove a civil case, a plaintiff must show enough evidence to convince the fact finder (jury or the court) that it is more than 50% likely; or it is more likely to be true than untrue, that plaintiff’s claim is valid.
Another important distinction between the two types of cases commonly confused is that, in a criminal case, the alleged victim is not a party to the criminal case, rather the People are the party. As such, in a criminal case, the alleged victim cannot “drop” or have the charges against the defendant dismissed. The decision to dismiss or “drop” a case in a criminal action rests solely with the District Attorney, who represents the interest of the People. In a civil case, the plaintiff can, in most instances (some instances require the permission of the court), agree to a dismissal of the action against the defendant.
If you have been charged with a crime, it’s important that you seek the advice of an attorney experienced in criminal law. If you feel as you may have a civil claim, its important that you seek the advice of an experienced civil litigation attorney as soon as possible. Civil law provides certain time frames in which to make claims, and time is of the utmost importance. If you should have any questions about a particular matter and your charges are in Onondaga, Oneida, Madison, or Jefferson County, don’t hesitate to call us at 315-701-2939 or find us on the web at bestsyracuselawyers.com for a free initial consultation.
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