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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

Todd Spodek is a second generation attorney with immense experience. He has many years of experience handling 100’s of tough and hard to win trials. He’s been featured on major news outlets, such as New York Post, Newsweek, Fox 5 New York, South China Morning Post, Insider.com, and many others.

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Liable In Civil Case Not Guilty In Criminal Case

By Spodek Law Group | February 13, 2023

The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Cases: Understanding the Two Categories of Law

In the United States, when an individual commits a wrongdoing, they may be faced with the headaches of both a civil case and criminal case. It is likely that they broke a law and, if so, will be faced with a criminal case against the state or federal government. Additionally, if this wrongdoing was aimed toward another individual, then they will also be faced with a civil case, which usually involves disputes between people because of a legal duty or responsibility that was not adhered to. There are many differences and similarities between a criminal case and a civil case.

The Plaintiff: Who Brings Forth the Action

In a criminal case, the “plaintiff,” (the party that brings forth the action), is the state or federal government. Instead of an injured victim filing the case in court, a prosecutor will do so, in order to represent the state or “the People” or “the United States.” That is because the crime itself will be considered to have affected everyone in society. In a criminal case, though they may indirectly have an impact, the injured party will typically have no say in whether or not a criminal case will be brought forth against a potential defendant.

On the other hand, in a civil case, the injured party or victim will file a lawsuit in civil court. They will become the “plaintiff.”

Punishment: The Consequences of the Case

In a criminal case, the state or federal government will seek to punish a defendant through means such as jail time, fines, restitution, probation, or even death in certain states or federally (or a combination of these consequences). Aside from punishment, the Government will also seek to rehabilitate the defendant, in order to deter them from committing future crimes and restore/reintegrate the defendant into normal life by improving their personal conditions. The defendant will attempt to dismiss the case prior to trial or enter a plea (which may lessen the charge and/or punishment before trial). If the defendant must go to trial, then they will hope for a “not guilty” verdict, in order to be set free from their criminal case.

In a civil case, the plaintiff will seek monetary damages or an injunction (an order not to do something by the court), or specific performance (an order to do something by the court), in an attempt to restore the plaintiff to feeling “whole” again. The defendant will attempt to dismiss this case prior to a trial or submit to a settlement with the plaintiff (a negotiated agreement). If the defendant must go to trial, then they will hope for a verdict in their favor.

The Burden of Proof: How Evidence Determines the Verdict

The burden of proof describes the legal requirement that establishes which party must present evidence to prove or defeat a claim in regard to facts and evidence required. In criminal cases, the government (prosecutors) carry the burden of proof. In civil cases, the plaintiff carries the burden of proof.

The standard or proof may arguably be considered the most important difference between criminal and civil cases and is often the cause of the verdict variations in these cases.

In a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the prosecutor must prove every single element of the crime alleged beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor is unable to do this, then the jury must return with a “not guilty” verdict for the defendant. This is the highest standard in any kind of court, since the punishments can be so severe and blameworthy.

The Key Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases

In the American legal system, a person may face both criminal and civil cases when they commit a wrongdoing. Criminal cases deal with violations of the law, while civil cases deal with disputes between individuals, typically involving a breach of a legal duty or responsibility. Although they share some similarities, there are many differences between these two categories of law.

The Plaintiff: Who Brings Forth the Action

In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the state or federal government, and the case is typically brought forth by a prosecutor. In contrast, in a civil case, the injured party or victim becomes the plaintiff and files a lawsuit in civil court.

Punishment and Compensation

The punishment for a defendant in a criminal case may include jail time, fines, restitution, probation, or even death, depending on the crime committed. In a civil case, the plaintiff will seek monetary damages, an injunction, or specific performance to restore them to feeling “whole” again.

The Burden of Proof

The burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which requires the prosecutor to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In contrast, in a civil case, the standard of proof is “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the harm to the plaintiff.

Jury Trials and Defendant’s RightsJury trials are almost always allowed in a criminal case, while in a civil case, the verdict may be decided by a judge, known as a “bench trial.” In a criminal case, the defendant always has the right to an attorney, and if they cannot afford one, the government must provide them with one. In contrast, in a civil case, the defendant does not have the right to an attorney, and if they cannot afford one, they will either not be represented or must find pro bono work or a non-profit legal organization.

When Can You Be Found Liable on a Civil Case and Not Guilty on a Criminal Case?

The most important difference between criminal and civil cases is the standard of proof, which is often tied to the reason for a “liable” or “not guilty” verdict. It is possible for an individual to be found liable in a civil case but not guilty in a criminal case.

For instance, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in his criminal case but was found liable for their deaths in a wrongful death case in civil court. These verdicts show that the burden of proof was not met by prosecutors in the criminal case but was met by the plaintiffs in the civil case.


In summary, criminal and civil cases differ in many ways, including the plaintiff, punishment and compensation, burden of proof, and defendant’s rights. While an individual may face both a criminal case and a civil case for the same wrongdoing, the outcome of the cases may differ due to the different standards of proof.

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