Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 20, 2011

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Criminal procedure is different from civil procedure because the burdens and results are dramatically different. In criminal matters, action is taken by the “state” (a federal, state or local government agency) against an individual or an organization (like a group of individuals, “business” or other entity) for violation of law. Someone convicted of a crime can be ordered to pay a fine, can be put on probation, or confined to serve time in jail. The sentence imposed on a defendant who pleads or is found guilty is meant to deter that person from acting in the same manner in the future, to deter others from acting in a similar manner, and to punish the criminal. The state has a burden of proof to meet before someone can have their liberties restrained by confinement in jail.

How Civil Procedure is Different

In a civil matter, the controversy is between two or more “people” (including individuals, businesses or government agencies). The typical result is an award of a money judgment to be paid by one party to the other. The judgment is imposed to make the aggrieved person “whole” for the harm that has been caused by the other. The judgment in a civil matter does not include the imposition of a criminal sentence.

The rules of civil procedure are different from those of criminal procedure in part because the results and objectives of the litigation differ. Criminal procedures are generally designed to protect a defendant’s rights. For example, many states have codified the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona (i.e. – Miranda warnings), into very similar state rules that require an officer to warn you before you make statements that could hurt your case and send you to jail. Civil rules are designed to give both parties a set of equal rules to go by. In civil procedure, you are not warned before making incriminating statements, because the result – losing money – is generally considered less serious than the criminal alternative – losing your liberty.

Getting Help for Civil and Criminal Matters

Probably the most significant difference between civil and criminal procedures is the discovery process. In a civil case, you can be required to give depositions and disclose evidence, which could be used against you later at trial. In a criminal case, you are never required to give evidence against yourself so the state can use it against you later. It is always the state’s burden to prove you are guilty and the criminal rules of procedure are designed to insure that you rights are protected. Even though many rules are similar, it’s always best to obtain an attorney who is versed in criminal procedure to make sure that you do not waive any of your rights codified through the rules of criminal procedure.