I know we have talked about how our court systems are set up, but there is still confusion about the difference between a civil case and a criminal case. I got a question last week regarding a DUI where there was a wreck and someone got injured. Would this be a “Civil” or a “Criminal” case. The answer is, both….maybe.

Criminal cases are brought on by the government and civil cases are brought on by individual citizens or businesses. Criminal cases may result in jail time. Civil cases carry only monetary penalties. While they are separate cases with lives of their own, both types of cases can be brought at the same time.

One of the most famous examples of this is O.J. Simpson. Remember he was initially charged by the State of California for the murder of two people. He was found not guilty. The prosecution of that case was paid for with tax dollars, as are all criminal cases. After the criminal case against O.J., the families of the two victims filed separate, civil charges against him. How can that be done?

Basically, civil cases and criminal cases are separate beings. Each type of case has completely different rules and penalties. Criminal cases are brought because someone allegedly broke the minimum rules of living in a civilized community. Civil cases are brought by individuals or businesses because some monetary damage was done as a result of the wrongdoing by the accused, and the person bringing the lawsuit wants to be repaid. The penalties are huge in a criminal case, in that the government could take away the rights of the person accused if he or she is found guilty. Because the stakes are so high, the burden of proof is much higher in a criminal case as opposed to a civil case. The rules for what evidence can be introduced are very different in each of the cases.

This is how O.J. was found not guilty in his criminal case, but was found to be liable in the civil case. Penalties in criminal cases include fines and potential loss of liberty….jail. Penalties in civil cases are generally monetary only. Also, the fees to bring civil cases are the responsibility of the person who brings the allegations.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill