The differences between civil and criminal cases

Whether you face a civil lawsuit or criminal charges, you may be unfamiliar with the ensuing legal procedures. Civil lawsuits result from disagreements or injuries and damage caused by one party's alleged negligence, resulting in the plaintiff suing the defendant. On the other hand, criminal cases involve accusations of violations of public-law statutes.

Civil and criminal processes differ significantly. Criminal proceedings start with an arrest, and police must protect your rights -- one of which is to consult with a lawyer. You will then be in custody in a detention centre until a hearing in which the justice of the peace will order your release on bail, or you will remain in custody. A trial must follow within a reasonable time.

Criminal trial proceedings

Because a conviction can adversely impact one's life, the Charter and common law protects the rights of the accused. This includes protection from unreasonable search and seizure practices, and that a conviction can only follow the proof of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing

If the court finds you guilty, the judge will consider some aspects before deciding on an appropriate sentence, the first of which will be the seriousness of your crime. The judge will also examine the different options for sentencing under the Criminal Code and other statutes while attempting to ensure the punishment will deter or prevent repetitions of the crime. A judge will evaluate the potential effectiveness of rehabilitation, and then could sentence you to one (or any combination) of the following:

  • Fine -- An amount of money you must pay
  • Probation -- Your release with specific conditions
  • Restitution -- An order for you to pay for damages or injuries
  • Community service -- Voluntary community work that you must perform for a particular number of hours
  • Incarceration -- Forced imprisonment in a federal penitentiary for a sentence exceeding two years, or provincial prison for a shorter sentence

Civil lawsuits

If you have to face a civil lawsuit, you may find the proceedings to be rather complex. These start with a pleading, which involves the plaintiff stating the complaint against you and the remedy sought. The court officer will then serve a copy of the plaintiff's pleading on you. If you do not respond with a defence statement, you will lose the case by default. Your lawyer and the legal counsel for the plaintiff can attempt to settle out of court.

Discovery will be the next step, which allows you to examine the claim, and allows both parties to scrutinize the evidence before going to court. If there is no settlement, the case will go to trial, and the plaintiff may have the right to ask for a trial by jury. The burden of proof will be on the plaintiff. However, civil cases only need proof of probability and not proof beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal case.

Determining the remedy

If the court finds the facts justifying the sought remedy, it will hold you liable. Depending on your type of legal case, the court can order the following:

  • A declaratory remedy -- A declaration by the court about ownership of property or any determination of ownership
  • An injunction -- An order to restrain you from doing something
  • A monetary remedy -- An order to pay the damages and losses -- both economic and non-economic -- of the plaintiff

Regardless of the type of case you may be facing, there are resources available to you who can answer all of your questions and concerns, and carefully evaluate the circumstances of your specific case to determine the best possible strategy for your defence.

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The differences between civil and criminal cases | Howard C. Cohen & Associates