Criminal law vs. Civil law in Oklahoma
Three of the most distinct ways in which a criminal case differs from a civil case in Oklahoma are 1) the objective of the case, 2) how the case is initiated and 3) what is ultimately at stake if the defendant loses the case.
Criminal law involves prosecuting those who have broken the law. For example, a person may be prosecuted by the state and sentenced to time in jail and/or a monetary fine for committing an act that is against the law, such as theft, assault or murder.
On the other hand, the objective of civil law is to allow individuals or legal entities to seek compensation from other individuals or legal entities for losses they have sustained as a result of that person’s wrongful conduct, or to have that conduct ordered to cease.
For example, a driver injured in an auto accident may bring a civil suit against the other driver(s) that caused the accident for compensation to offset the cost of medical treatment, lost wages, damage to personal property, pain and suffering, which were a result of the accident.
How the Case is Initiated
Criminal cases and civil cases in Oklahoma also differ in how they are initiated. A criminal case is initiated by the state prosecutor, who will decide independently, or by use of a grand jury, whether or not charges will be filed against you. It will then be the prosecutor’s responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime as charged.
A civil case is initiated by an individual or entity and their lawyer(s) by filing a lawsuit against you. They are then responsible for proving to the court, by a preponderance of evidence, that they have experienced a loss due to your wrongful conduct and that you are liable to compensate them and/or refrain from the conduct in question.
What can be confusing is that the state can also be a plaintiff in a civil suit, such as in the case of certain “class action” lawsuits, where the state initiates a lawsuit against an individual or corporation for compensatory damages on behalf of the general public. Likewise, the government can also be a defendant in a civil suit, whereby by the government is being sued by an individual or corporation for some negligence on its part.
What’s at Stake?
If the defendant loses a civil case, he or she will only be ordered to pay financial compensation to someone who has suffered a loss due to wrongful conduct on his or her behalf and/or to cease the wrongful conduct.
In criminal cases, on the other hand, although the defendant can also be ordered to pay financial restitution to the victims of his or her crime, it is the defendants freedom that is ultimately at stake because he or she can be incarcerated if the nature of the offense, or his or her criminal record, warrants incarceration.
So the real question is whether there is money or a person’s freedom at stake. If a person’s freedom is at stake, it is a criminal case. If the case is just one in which a person may be required to compensate another financially, or be ordered to do or refrain from doing something, it is a civil case.
Jury Pro: Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyer
Even a minor misdemeanor charge or traffic citation can have great financial and sociological consequences unforeseen to layman. In fact, some convictions (even some misdemeanors) which are unrelated to driving, can cause your drivers’ license to be suspended.
That is what makes proper legal representation so critical. You need to know what you can do to protect your legal rights. The criminal defense lawyers at Jury Pro can evaluate your specific situation to determine what defenses and approaches are best suited to resolve your case. Call (888) Jury-Pro or (888) 587-9776 to speak to an attorney about your case.