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Civil Law vs. Criminal Law: Comparative Analysis

One of the most common ways to structure the law is to divide it into civil and criminal law. There are differences in the goals, remedies, procedures, and parties between civil and criminal cases. Regarding the goals, there is one primary difference between civil and criminal laws. Civil cases are aimed to compensate the victim; at the same time, criminal cases are aimed to punish the criminal (LawShelf Educational Media, n.d.). Therefore, the remedies in both of the cases are also different. Civil remedies often take one of the two forms of compensation: either financial or non-financial ones, so the victim can, to some extent, return to the situation prior to the case (The Danish Institute for Human Rights, n.d.). However, they can also include restitution, injunctions, or guarantees of non-repetition. A criminal remedy can take various forms and include house arrest, imprisonment, community services, fines, and community supervision. The idea is to educate a criminal about the consequences of their actions through punishment, also further protecting the society from the criminal. Consequently, as the remedies and outcomes of the cases are different, the burden of proof is also different. While in a civil case, it is enough for one of the parties to introduce slightly better evidence to win the case, in a criminal case, the evidence should be beyond a reasonable doubt to accuse anyone.

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In a civil litigation matter, the suing party is called the plaintiff (University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, n.d.). As it was mentioned before, in a civil case, the plaintiff can be any person, organization, or business. They can charge any other physical or legal person. The person or entity being sued is called the defendant. In the criminal case, only the state can be a charging party. The wrongdoer is named a defendant in both civil litigation and criminal prosecution. In civil law, a case commences when an individual, an organization, a company, or a corporation files a complaint against another party. In contrast, in criminal law, an individual can never file a case; one can only report it. The case only commences when the government represented by a prosecutor files it. In a civil case, both parties can appeal, while in a criminal case, only the defendant can do so.

Regarding the cases that can be both civil and criminal, one such case is murder. The legal definition of murder is “an intentional killing that was unlawful and committed with malice aforethought” (Legal Information Institute, n.d. a, para. 1). The person charged with murder can also be sued civilly for wrongful death, as “any tortious injury that caused someone’s death may be grounds for a wrongful death action” (Legal Information Institute, n.d. b, para. 1). Actus Reus, in that case, is the physical element of murder itself, such as stabbing, shooting, or other way used to kill a person (Legal Information Institute, n.d. c). Mens Rea, in that case, is the intention to kill, the mentioned “malice aforethought” (Legal Information Institute, n.d. d). It should be proved that the killer understood that the victim would die due to their actions, and the killer wanted this to happen. The murder would be considered mala in se, as it is a type of crime that is morally unacceptable and inherently wrong (Russel-Brown and Davis, 2015).


The Danish Institute for Human Rights. (n.d.). Judicial remedy. National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights. Web.

LawShelf Educational Media. (n.d.). Civil law vs. criminal law. Web.

Legal Information Institute. (n.d. a). 18 U.S. Code § 1111: Murder. Web.

Legal Information Institute. (n.d. b). Wrongful death action. Web.

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Legal Information Institute. (n.d. c). Actus reus. Web.

Legal Information Institute. (n.d. d). Mens rea. Web.

Russel-Brown, K., & Davis, A.J. (2015). Criminal law. SAGE Publications, Inc.

University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. (n.d.). The difference between civil and criminal law. Lumen Learning. Web.

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