Professor Gary Shapley
Civil Law v. Criminal Law
Introduction to Criminal Law
Only a few people actually know “the law”. Others think that the criminal justice system is a body that only has one set of rules and laws and all act the same. Not to mention that because of television they think that every case is tried at criminal court with a judge and a panel of jurors. However that is not the case because there’s two specifically types of law, civil and criminal law. Though both are very different from each other, both results are the same since they help protect our rights as citizens.
Before we get to know what the differences between civil and criminal law we have to understand what each of them mean and how they work. Civil law takes over cases that are normally non-violent crimes. Civil law is about private disputes between individuals or between individuals and companies/organizations. This is where people who have disagreements over contracts, property ownership, divorce, child custody, and damages for personal and property damage are dealt with. (What is Civil Law?) Civil law is meant for people to solve their disputes in a peaceful and orderly manner. Civil disputes most likely end up in one party paying for damages done to the other or having to abstain from a particular activity. I want to say cases that go to civil law rarely, if ever, the defenders don’t go to jail. (What is Civil Law?)
Criminal law takes over cases that are felonies and misdemeanors such as murder, assault, traffic charges, burglary, sexual assault, and etcetera. (What is Criminal Law?) In criminal law, the legal action is initiated by the prosecutor who decides whether to bring charges and exactly what charges to bring. Criminal law is used to punish people that along with their crimes or offenses have put others safety and welfare in danger. (Samaha, 2008) Most of the time, all offenders are punished depending on the severity of the crime they’ve committed.
Probably the most distinguished and obvious difference between civil and criminal law is that civil law deals with most non-violent crimes and criminal law deal with cases where the defendant commits a serious offense that endangers the welfare and safety of others. People that commit crimes such as murder, sexual assaults, robberies, and other crimes that involve people being in danger of their lives or safety are part of the criminal law. Law suits, divorces, contract settlements, are all examples of civil cases.
Punishments in both types of laws are polar opposites. In civil law, the defendant never gets put in jail or gets executed for the case they’re being tried for. (Standler, 1998) It’s been discussed that you cannot execute a person unless they themselves have committed a murder because that would be cruel or unusual punishment (Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, 2008). The defendant, if found guilty of course, will most likely pay some kind of monetary compensation to the other party instead of going to jail. On the other hand, for criminal offenses, the defendant is punished by being sentenced for time in jail, paying a monetary fine, and in extreme criminal cases, the death penalty is issued.
There are four types of punishments that the criminal law system uses that fit the crime that each individual committed. For example, you won’t give a life sentence to someone who was charged with possession of an illegal substance because that person could get rehabilitation and eventually be fit for society. Retribution is the first of the justifications for punishment. Retribution is essentially punishment based on just deserts, so the more severe your crime is, the harsher the punishment. The second justification is prevention, deterrence to be exact; there are two types of deterrence, general and specific deterrence. General deterrence aims at society as a whole by imposing a hefty penalty on those who commit an offense so...
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Geldart, W. (1907). Elements of English Law.
Samaha, J. (2008). Criminal Law. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Standler, R. B. (1998). Differences between Civil and Criminal Law in the USA. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from http://www.rbs2.com/cc.htm#anchor111111
What is Civil Law? (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from Civics Library Of The Missouri Bar: http://members.mobar.org/civics/whatiscivillaw.htm
What is Civil Law? (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from WiseGeek: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-civil-law.htm
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