A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Criminal vs Civil Law

A civil lawsuit was filed on January 9, 2019, against the Harrisonville School District and several district employees,  alleging a personal injury. However, many people may not fully understand the difference between civil and criminal lawsuits.

One of the main differences between these two kinds of lawsuits is the circumstances in which each lawsuit may be filed.

According to the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI), a criminal lawsuit may be filed when the crime victim reports the crime to law enforcement. Once the law enforcement has received this information, a prosecutor may file against the defendant if there is sufficient evidence. Once the prosecutor files the case the victim loses control of the situation.

Even if a criminal lawsuit has found the defendant not guilty, or if a criminal lawsuit has not been filed, a civil lawsuit may still be filed. According to the NCVLI, a civil lawsuit can be filed even if there has not been a criminal lawsuit filed and if the victims feel that they have been wronged by the defendant.

Civil and criminal lawsuits also differ in the punishments that the defendant may receive if  found guilty.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ website states that in civil cases the plaintiff may ask for monetary relief or equitable relief. Equitable relief is asking for the court to order the defendant to change his or her behavior.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ website also states that in criminal cases, punishments can be more harsh. If the defendant is found guilty, he or she may serve time in prison or be ordered to pay a fine.

It is also easier to be convicted in a civil lawsuit. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, criminal cases are almost always decided by a jury and the guilt of the defendant must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. But, in most civil cases only a  “preponderance of evidence” is needed to convict the defendant.

According to the Legal Information Institute, a “preponderance of evidence” is achieved when the judge is convinced that there is at least a 50% chance that the claim is true.

The case that has been filed is asking for damages. This means that in this case, the plaintiff is asking for monetary relief.