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Civil vs. Criminal Case Guide: The Plaintiff, Defendant, and Burden of Proof

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Criminal vs Civil 100Learn about how criminal and civil law differs and how it can affect you.

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Burden of Proof: How the Criminal Law and Civil Law Sectors Differ

The law provides remedies to seek justice for wrongdoing committed by the accused to the victims. Justice can be accomplished within the criminal law courts or civil law courts. Criminal law and Civil law have different standards of proof in order to succeed.

In this guide, we cover the basic differences between criminal and civil cases and how outcomes in the different courts can affect you.

  1. Plaintiff or Defendant: Who is Who?
  2. What is Burden of Proof?
  3. Who has the Burden of Proof?
  4. Can a criminal case and civil case be brought for the same occurrence?
  5. Outcomes in a Criminal Case vs. Outcomes in a Civil Case
  6. Does the outcome of a criminal case and civil case have to be the same?
  7. Getting Help with Your Injury Case
Burden of Proof Infographic

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Plaintiff or Defendant: Who is Who?

In Criminal Cases, the Plaintiff is typically identified as “The People,” which is the State on behalf of the victim. The Defendant is the individual(s) being accused of a crime or code.

In Civil Cases, the Plaintiff is the person(s) who has alleged that a wrongdoing has been done to the them. The Defendant is the person(s) or entity that has been accused of committing a wrongful act.

What is Burden of Proof?

In a legal context, the burden of proof is defined as:

  • A duty/responsibility placed on a civil or criminal defendant to prove or disprove a disputed fact;
  • A duty placed upon a party to prove or disprove a disputed fact; or
  • It can also define which party bears this burden.

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Who has the Burden of Proof?

In a criminal law case, the State has the burden of proof to show by way of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant committed the alleged acts. Failure to provide evidence to the Judge or Jury beyond a reasonable doubt can result in the Defendant being found not guilty.

In a civil case, the Plaintiff has the burden of proof to show by way of the evidence that the Defendant is responsible or at-fault by a preponderance of the evidence.

Reasonable Doubt

In the criminal world, a jury/judge must be persuaded that the accused that allegedly committed said crime is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Courts have defined and considered reasonable doubt as follows:

  • Reasonable doubt” needs no definition. People v. Davis, 1950, 406 Ill. 215, 92 N.E.2d 649; People v. Hansen, 1914, 263 Ill. 44, 104 N.E. 1069.
  • Concept of reasonable doubt needs no explanation because there is no better definition of reasonable doubt than the words themselves, and thus it is improper for an attorney to attempt to define concept of reasonable doubtPeople v. Garcia, App. 1 Dist.1981, 59 Ill. Dec. 477, 103 Ill.App.3d 779, 431 N.E.2d 1234.

Reasonable doubt is the highest burden within the law to prove because it’s fact based on the circumstances and it holds the highest consequence for those involved.  Its intended purpose is to ensure that the truly guilty is convicted and the innocent is not. However, that is sometimes not the case. 

Preponderance of the Evidence

In the civil world, the Plaintiff (the alleged harmed, victim) must satisfy the burden by the preponderance of the evidence. It has been defined by the Court as follows:  

  • A preponderance of the evidence is proof that the fact at issue is more likely true than not. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Hansen, 2016 IL App (1st) 143720.
  • “Preponderance of the evidence” is defined as evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence which is offered in opposition to it. In re Aniylah B., 2016 IL App (1st) 153662. 

In practice, preponderance of the evidence is explained as 51% of the evidence must be in favor of the Plaintiff; or tipping a balanced scale slightly in one direction compared to the other; or its more likely than not that the Defendant is responsible.

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Can a criminal case and civil case be brought for the same occurrence?

Yes, a criminal law case can be brought against a Defendant who has been accused of violating a code or committing a crime as well as a civil lawsuit alleging fault against the same defendant.   

For example, the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson was the criminal case against OJ Simpson for allegedly murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Following the criminal case, the family of victims Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful death lawsuit against OJ Simpson. 

Outcomes in a Criminal Case vs. Outcomes in a Civil Case

Another difference between criminal law and civil law are the possible outcomes of the cases.

Criminal Law Outcomes

The possible outcome of a criminal case includes but is not limited to:

  • Dismissal – when all or a portion of the criminal law case is thrown out because evidence or testimony has persuaded the Judge that the State or Plaintiff cannot prove their case. Criminal cases can be dismissed with prejudice, meaning final, or without prejudice, meaning the issue can be reconsidered.  
  • Nolle prosequi – Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute.” At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in criminal cases that the charges cannot be proved or that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s claim. An entry of nolle prosequi may be made at any time after charges are brought and before a verdict is returned or a plea entered. Most of the time, prosecutors need a judge’s permission to nol-pros a case.
  • Not guilty – A plea entered by a defendant in criminal cases. Often erroneously confused with a claim of innocence, technically a plea of not guilty simply compels the prosecution to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. When the jury (or a judge sitting without a jury) acquits a defendant after trial, they return a verdict of “not guilty,” which indicates their conclusion that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Plea agreement or plea bargain – Plea bargains are agreements between defendants and prosecutors in which defendants agree to plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them in exchange for concessions from the prosecutors.
  • Guilty – A plea entered by a defendant in a criminal case, which admits to fault of the crime or a finding a fault by the jury. 

Also note that in a criminal case where the defendant is found to be guilty, the outcome may result in jail time, prison sentences, probation, community service, or other court monitoring.

Civil Case Outcomes

  • Dismissal – When all or a portion of the case is thrown out because evidence or testimony has persuaded the Judge that the State or Plaintiff cannot prove their case. Civil cases can be dismissed with prejudice, meaning final, or without prejudice, meaning the issue can be reconsidered.
  • Settlement – An official agreement where the parties agree to a monetary amount or a specific act to satisfy the dispute(s) in question. This agreement is typically subject to confidentiality and the alleged at-fault individual or entity does not admit fault of any by executing a settlement. 
  • Judgement in Favor of the Plaintiff/Defendant – When a judgement is entered in favor of either the Plaintiff or Defendant by either the jury or judge then that means that that party has won. When a Plaintiff has a judgment in their favor its for a monetary amount or a specific act.  When a judgment for the Defendant is entered this means that the Defendant was found not responsible.  

Does the outcome of a criminal case and civil case have to be the same?

Not necessarily. The outcome of a criminal and civil case don’t necessarily have to be the same. Most times, the same evidence used in either a civil or criminal legal case will be used in the other. 

The Burden of Proofs vary in degree. Therefore, proving criminal charges is harder than proving civil charges. 

For example, in the infamous OJ Simpson case, OJ was acquitted of murder in his criminal trial. However, in the wrongful death suit filed by the victims’ families, the jury found OJ responsible for the murders and awarded monetary funds to the victims’ families.

Getting Help with Your Injury Case

Criminal and Civil cases can differ in many ways. Navigating through the process of either type of case can be challenging. And if you’re dealing with both a criminal and civil case at the same time, litigating both cases can be a particularly difficult legal challenge. An experienced lawyer can help you through such a challenge.

At the Kryder Law Group, our lawyers are able to guide our clients through complex legal matters in a way that’s easy to understand. Tell us about your personal injury case. Call now for your free consultation!

Call or text (312) 223-1700 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form