How to Identify Criminal Cases and Personal Injury (Civil) Cases

Authored by Wendy Witt, Esq.

If you're unsure whether you are part of a criminal case or a civil case, it can be disconcerting. You definitely need to know.

Criminal cases involve an arrest, booking, jail, and, perhaps, bail.

  • The prosecutor, which is usually a district attorney, tries to prove that the defendant committed all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • The district attorney represents the injured and a criminal defense attorney represents the accused, the defendant.

On the other hand, in a personal injury case, which is a civil case, the injured is represented by a personal injury attorney. The injured person must to privately hire the PI attorney; in a civil case, legal representation is not provided by the state.

  • The personal injury lawyer must prove that the defendant is liable for those injuries by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable.
  • The defendant is usually represented by a civil defense attorney or an insurance defense attorney.

In addition to the Simpson murder and wrongful death cases, other injuries may result in both criminal and civil cases. Consider the example of a drunk driver.

  • The drunk driver, who causes injury, will likely be arrested and prosecuted for drunk driving in criminal court. The DA will prosecute the drunk driver.
  • In addition, whomever the drunk driver injured may sue for financial compensation in civil court. The PI attorney will sue the drunk driver.

    For example, if the drunk driver hits another car injuring the driver, that driver can sue to recover for damage to the car, medical bills, lost wages, lost benefits, and pain and suffering. The family or spouse can sue for loss of consortium.

    If the case is especially egregious, punitive damages (big bucks seeking to punish) may be awarded as well.

How to Find an Attorney for Criminal and Civil Cases

If the case is criminal and you are the accused (i.e. the defendant), then you need to consult with a criminal defense attorney. If you are the victim, the district attorney represents your interests as well as society's interests.

If the case is civil and you are the one who is being accused of causing injury, you need a civil defense attorney or an insurance defense attorney. Medical malpractice, homeowners, renters, and car insurance companies supply attorneys to represent civil defendants if the corresponding policy covers the situation at hand.

If you are the injured party in a civil case, a personal injury attorney (sometimes called a "plaintiff's attorney) will represent you.

There are several ways to find an attorney. You could ask a loved one for a referral or call the bar association and ask for a list of attorneys. Or, you could use the Internet and www.attorneys.org to find a criminal defense attorney or personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will explain the burden of proof and what needs to be proven in your individual case.

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