Criminal Trials vs. Civil Trials

The Difference

Criminal cases and civil cases are different in many ways, which can be seen in the process of them. The big difference is that civil cases deal with citizen's private rights and issues, while criminal cases deal with threats to society.

What Happens in a Criminal Trial

  1. Someone is arrested-this someone is the defendant.
  2. The defendant is brought before court where probable cause is established and bail is set. They may also go to a grand jury if they're seeking indictment, or a formal charge.
  3. Next the defendant will appear for an arraignment, where they can enter a plea or establish a plea bargain
  4. Now they go on trial. The prosecution and defense present opening statements then take turns examining and cross examining witnesses. At the end they each give a closing statement and highlight their most favorable evidence.
  5. Finally, the jury or judge alone votes either guilty or for an acquittal, meaning not guilty, and delivers the verdict. If the jury can't decide on a verdict, it is called a hung jury and the judge rules it a mistrial.
  6. If the defendant is declared guilty, then they go to court again to receive a sentence. If there was a hung jury, the prosecution can decide to drop the charges or retry the case with a different jury.

What Happens in a Civil Trial

  1. Someone hires an attorney and files a complaint-this is the plaintiff
  2. The defendant, or person having a suit filed against them, receives a summons from the court that informs them of the suit and orders them to appear in court.
  3. Both sides begin to gather evidence and exchange pleadings, which are the complaint and response combined.
  4. Here, the plaintiff and defendant can meet to settle the issue outside of court. They can do so through mediation, where a third helps them reach an agreement. They can also settle through arbitration, where a third party acts a judge by hearing the two sides and making a final decision that is binding for both parties.
  5. If they think the matter will go to court, then the parties meet with a judge in a pre-trial conference to clarify their differences and prepare for the trial.
  6. In court, the plaintiff presents first then the defendant has a chance to respond. At the end, each side summarizes their case and most convincing evidence. The plaintiff must convince the jury that the defendant is guilty with what is called a preponderance of evidence.
  7. The judge delivers the verdict-if they plaintiff wins, they get nothing and must pay court costs. However, they do have the option to appeal the case. If they win, then the defendant must pay back the plaintiff in some way for whatever damage was done.