Criminal Vs. Civil Cases: Navigating the Burden of Proof

Most Americans have a hard time understanding law. The majority of us read at an eighth grade level, while lawyers talk and write like their juris doctorate is permanently stuck up their ass.

So what is the difference, in layman’s terms, between a criminal and civil case?

Criminal Cases

A criminal case is filed by the government when a person is accused of committing a crime resulting in a victim party. The victim is usually another person but can be a municipality. In these cases the District Attorneys Office (the state) must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused (the defendant) committed the alleged crime(s) against their victim(s).

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a fancy way of saying the state can prove with +90% certainty the defendant committed the alleged crime.

Civil Cases

A civil case is filed by a private party (the plaintiff). It’s a dispute between two parties over money, property, or some injury to personal rights.

The plaintiff’s private attorney must prove a “preponderance of evidence,” which is a fancy way of saying there is +51% likelihood that the plaintiff was wronged by the defendant.

This is why we see so many civil suits being settled outside a courtroom, especially municipalities.

Settling a case does NOT mean anyone is guilty of anything. It means the defendant would rather offer the plaintiff a small amount of money to end the case privately rather than pay a larger amount to fight it out in court.

So the next time you see in the news that the City of Albuquerque has settled another lawsuit, this is probably why. It has nothing to do with police doing something wrong. It’s strictly a numbers game. Not only is this a negligent use of taxpayer money, but it misleads the public into believing the police are always at fault.

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