Civil and Criminal Law Contents of the Report Introduction Civil and Criminal Law: A comparison Civil Liability for Criminal Acts
The essentials of Criminal Liability
Corporate Criminal Liability
Law is one of the most complicated subjects with a massive literature behind it. There are several nuances with respect to Law which makes it difficult at times to understand certain differences between various nuances. For example, understanding the differences between civil law and criminal law can be a bit overwhelming but it is still important for anyone to have at the minimum basic understanding about both. This article aims at analyzing and presenting the differences between civil law and criminal law in a fairly lucid and easy manner.
Civil and Criminal Law: A Comparison
When is a legal problem criminal and when is it civil What difference does it make whether it is criminal or civil There are more than one ways to answer these questions. To gain a better insight, these questions can be looked at from two angles as proposed by Ronald Standler: Punishment and Burden of Proof (Standler, 1998).
Punishment: In criminal law, a guilty defendant is punished in one of the two ways: either incarceration in a jail or prison or fine paid to the government. or, in exceptional cases: execution of the defendant: the death penalty. On the other hand, a defendant in civil litigation is never incarcerated nor executed. Most often, a losing defendant in civil litigation only reimburses the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant’s behavior.
Burden of Proof: With certain exceptions, in most cases, in criminal litigation, the burden of proof is always on the state. The case starts with the defendant assumed to be innocent and as the case proceeds, the state must prove that the defendant is guilty. In contrast, in civil litigation, the burden of proof is initially on the plaintiff. It should be noted that, there may be several situations in which the burden shifts to the defendant.
With the above discussion in mind, it can be noticed that, in a criminal law case the litigation is filed by the government called the prosecution against the defendant whereas in a civil law case a private party files a lawsuit against the other party called the plaintiff. USCourts.gov provides us with an explicit table of differences among the two forms of law (USCourts.gov, 2007):
Who are the parties involved in the case
Plaintiff files the case, Defendant responds to the case
The Government (Federal, State or Local)
Prosecutor files the case, Defendant responds to the case
Issues the Court must decide
Court must determine if one party has caused harm to the other. Case deals with following the fundamental rights and duties
Court must determine of one party has violated a statute that prohibits some type of activity, deals with offenses against the society as a whole
Penalty or Remedy sought
Damages (monetary or other) to compensate the loss suffered
Punishment, deterrence or rehabilitation to preserve peace
Burden of Proof
Proved if a preponderance of evidence supports the claim
Proved, if person if guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
Table: Differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law (USCourts.gov, 2007)
Civil Liability for Criminal Acts
Civil liability is the legal obligation or responsibility of a person to compensate a person whom he/she has injured. Injury can either be personal or to property or rights. An important factor here is, that liability can be incurred regardless of whether the injury was inflicted intentionally or by accident. The Law school of the North Carolina Wesleyan College states that, criminal liability needs to be distinguished from the following concepts (Conner, nd):
culpability (purposely, knowingly, recklessly, negligently) – infers intent
capacity (infancy, intoxication, insanity) – capacity defenses
responsibility (volition, free will, competency) – presumptions
Essentials of Criminal Liability
According to Gardener and Anderson, there are five essentials of criminal liability (Gardner and Anderson, 1996). They are:
Principle of Actus Reus
Principle of Mens Rea
Principle of Concurrence
Principle of Causation
Principle of Resulting Harm
Corporate Criminal Liability
Corporate criminal liability has grown rapidly over the last two decades both in the United States and overseas. Although the imposition of criminal liability on corporations, as opposed to managers or employees, has generated considerable debate, few have questioned in depth the fundamental basis for imposing criminal liability on corporations (Khanna, 1996). The basic argument behind the debate, is that, you can not imprison corporations. The scope of corporate criminal liability in the United States is
very broad. Corporate Criminal acts can include almost any type of criminal acts except for the obvious crimes that require commission by natural persons such as rape and murder. Three requirements must be met in order to impose liability on a corporation. Firstly, it must be proved that the corporate agent has committed an illegal act. Secondly it must be proven that the criminal act was conducted from within the employment of the corporate agent by the corporation. Finally, it must be proved that the criminal act was aimed at bringing some benefit to the corporation.
Standler, Ronald (1998), "Differences between Civil and Criminal Law in the USA", Found at: http://www.rbs2.com/cc.htm [Online Source]
USCourts.gov (2007), "Major Differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law", Found at: http://www.uscourts.gov/outreach/resources/distinctioncivilcriminal05.pdf [Online Source]
Connor, T.O (nd), "Principles of Criminal Liability", North Carolina Wesleyan University, Faculty Corner, Found at: http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOConnor/293/293lect03.htm [Online Source]
Gardner, T &. Anderson, T (1996), "Criminal Law: Principles and Cases", West Publishing, 6th Edition, Minneapolis.
Khanna, Vikramaditya (1996), "Corporate Criminal Liability: What Purpose does it serve", Harvard Law Review, Vol 109, N0 7.