Many people are confused because we have both a criminal court system and a civil court system. When a legal issue arises, you may not know where to bring your case to justice. While you should work with an attorney, understanding the legal process can help you better understand your rights.


What Happens in Criminal Court?

The criminal justice system only handles violations of the laws in a given city, county, or state. This includes traffic violations, misdemeanor crimes, and felonies. When a crime has been committed, the government acts on behalf of the people in bringing a complaint against the defendant. They either present their case to a grand jury or in a preliminary hearing to allow a judge or jury to determine whether there’s enough evidence to file charges. If so, the defendant is arrested, processed, and arraigned to set a trial date. The trial will be conducted in the presence of a jury, which will have to either acquit the defendant or find him unanimously guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


How is a Civil Court Different?

A civil court differs from a criminal court in many ways, starting with introducing a complaint. In civil court, the injured party brings the complaint and pursues the case as the plaintiff. While criminal court results in imprisonment and fines for the defendant in a guilty verdict, the civil court’s goal is to provide financial compensation to the plaintiff for the damages they have suffered. The civil court does not impose punishment, although the jury in a civil court case can assign punitive damages as a means of punishing a defendant for extreme negligence.


Do Civil And Criminal Cases Ever Overlap?

In some situations, the two types of cases do deal with the same set of circumstances. For example, someone charged and tried for murder in criminal court may become the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. In that situation, the evidence used in the criminal trial can also be used in civil court.


When you meet an attorney for the first time, you’ll have the opportunity to gain legal insight into your situation. This will help you decide how best to proceed. In addition to helping you determine which court will hear your case, you’ll also get an assessment of the strength of your case.