Anyone who paid attention to the OJ Simpson trial may already know the difference between a civil and criminal trial. OJ was tried in California State Court for murder and was found not guilty by a jury. That was a criminal trial and as such if found guilty of a criminal offense, could lose his freedom and/or life as imposed by the State.
After being found not guilty in a criminal court of law, the victims/relatives filed a law suit in State Court demanding compensatory and punitive damages for the loss of their loved ones. That is a Civil Trial and does not carry any time in prison or the possibility of death. The only award that can be given by a jury in a civil court is compensatory damages which is money in compensation for their loss. The jury can also award punitive damages which is a statement made by the jury that the individual acted in such a manner that they feel he should have to pay money as punishment (punitive) for their loss.
In a criminal case the convicted person can be ordered to pay a fine, but those are usually miniscule compared to damages awarded in a civil action. A person can be covered by insurance to pay for compensatory civil damages up to a certain amount but insurance does not cover punitive awards. As such punitive damages must be paid by the convicted defendant.
OJ was found not guilty in criminal court but was found responsible in civil court and had to pay out damages to the victim’s families. OJ later was arrested and convicted of criminal charges in a robbery scheme gone bad and that is what he is in jail for at this time.
In criminal court a jury must all vote to convict for a defendant to be found guilty. The level of guilt must be proven by the state, “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” If any of the jurors have a reasonable doubt, the jury is hung and a mistrial must be the finding. The defendant can be tried again. If the jurors vote not guilty, the person is ruled not guilty and cannot be retried.
In civil court the level of proof that the victims or plaintiffs must reach is a much lower level, “…A preponderance of evidence.” Preponderance of evidence is in simple terms, 51 percent of the jurors must vote the defendant did what the plaintiffs claim. They then set a money amount both compensatory and punitive.
In municipal court, a criminal case can result in loss of liberty. A civil case again does not carry jail time. Examples of a criminal case is assault, theft, child endangering all punishable by six months in the county jail.
Civil cases that sometimes are confused with criminal cases are any act which does not carry jail time. Examples would be speed, stop sign, disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana and so on. Each one of these civil violation can become a criminal act if the person had previous convictions within the past 12 months or as in the case of disorderly conduct after reasonable warning to cease the disorderly action the person continues to do so and the dis con becomes a misdemeanor the fourth degree and carries the possibility of 30 days in the county lock up.
The only minor misdemeanor that is a civil offense and can result in incarceration is disorderly conduct where the person can be locked up for his own health and safety. A drunk passed out in the street is only a minor misdemeanor but can be incarcerated if the temperature is so cold that the person could freeze to death, so the jail will hold them until they sober up and can take care of themselves.
If an officer looks at your driving record and notices a habit of speeding tickets within the past year, expect to have the ticket written to a higher degree and face the possibility of time in jail.