Attorney Q&A’s

What is the difference between criminal law and civil law?

This is often misunderstood but can be easily explained. The American legal system is broken down into two different types of cases – civil and criminal.

Criminal law is the law of crime and punishment. It involves offenses against a person or the state and is prosecuted by the state. In criminal court, you are found “guilty” or “not guilty”. Criminal law provides redress by punishing the wrongdoer.

Civil law is the law of private rights. It involves disputes between persons and entities regarding legal duties and responsibilities violated or owed to one another. In civil court, you are found “liable” and “not liable”. Civil law provides redress by compensating the person or entity that has been wronged.

Sometimes, a person or entity’s conduct can result in criminal law and civil law overlapping. One of the more famous examples of this is OJ Simpson. In criminal court, he was charged by the State of California with murder (criminal) and in civil court he was sued by the families of his victims for monetary damages for their wrongful death.  

Criminal law examples:

  • homicide
  • obstruction of justice
  • assault
  • driving while intoxicated
  • possession of a controlled substance.

Civil law examples

  • negligence/personal injury
  • property damage
  • breach of contract
  • bankruptcy

If you have questions for one of our lawyers at MCLC, just reach out.

Phone: (518) 855-3535


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