When you’re hurt in an accident, or when someone has done a legal wrong against you in another way, there’s a possibility that criminal charges might result. But you might have heard that even if there are criminal charges, you still need to bring a civil claim to receive the full amount of compensation that you may deserve. You might be wondering — how can a case be both criminal and civil? Our Nevada personal injury attorneys explain.

Gavel In Criminal And Civil Case

How Can a Case Be Both Criminal and Civil?

A case can be both criminal and civil because the two proceedings apply different standards to resolve various issues. A person can both break a criminal law and commit a legal wrong against a private individual with the same conduct.

The criminal case applies a higher standard of proof and decides whether the person broke a criminal law. The civil case applies a lower standard of proof and decides whether the person violated a civil law.[1] A case can be both criminal and civil in that they are both necessary to decide unique issues that can only be decided with that type of proceeding.

Can a Civil Case Turn Criminal?

Yes, a civil case can turn criminal in the respect that the evidence uncovered in a civil case can prompt a criminal investigation. When the civil trial reveals information that one of the parties may have committed a crime, a criminal case might begin.

However, a civil case doesn’t turn criminal in the respect that they are two separate proceedings. A civil claim can order only civil remedies. A new criminal case must begin for a party to face criminal penalties.

Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases

The difference between civil and criminal cases are several. When you have a legal cause of action, it’s important to understand the difference between civil and criminal cases. The courts accomplish different purposes. When you understand the difference between the two types of proceedings, you can make sure that your interests are represented. Here are the differences between civil and criminal cases:

A Criminal Case Is Based on a Crime, While a Civil Case Is Based on a Civil Wrong

Criminal courts decide when someone has committed a crime. Crimes are categorized as crimes by the State of Nevada. Behavior that constitutes a crime may or may not also be a civil wrong. It’s important not to assume that you don’t have a civil case whether or not the actions constitute a crime. When a behavior is a crime, it may not amount to a civil action. However, even when there are no criminal charges, there still might be a valid civil claim.

Different Parties Initiate a Criminal Proceeding vs. a Civil Proceeding

Different parties begin a criminal proceeding vs. a civil proceeding. Only a state attorney, called a district attorney or prosecutor, can file a criminal proceeding. Even if a victim knows that they’ve been victimized by crime, it’s up to the state’s attorney to decide whether to proceed with criminal charges. Once the charges are filed, the state’s attorney decides whether to extend a plea offer to the defendant or take the case to trial. The victim can give input, but ultimately, it’s the state’s attorney that makes the decisions.

On the other hand, any victim can initiate a civil case. The victim files the case in their own name and on their own behalf. You don’t have to wait for approval from a third party to start your own civil case. In addition, in a civil case, the victim decides how to handle the case and what legal steps to take along the way.

The Burdens of Proof Are Different in a Criminal Proceeding vs. a Civil Proceeding

In a criminal proceeding, the state has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a relatively high burden of proof. In a civil proceeding, on the other hand, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, even if you lose the criminal proceeding, you might still win the civil proceeding with the same evidence. In addition, the elements that you need to prove might be a bit different.

There Are Different Remedies Available in a Criminal Case Compared to a Civil Proceeding

The purpose of a civil claim is to ensure that a victim gets compensated fairly for suffering a legal wrong. Usually, the remedy in a civil case is money. Sometimes, the court might also order an injunction, which is an order to tell a party to stop doing certain things. They might also order someone to turn property over to someone else. However, usually, the only penalty for the victim in a civil case is money. Jail time is not a possible remedy.

In a criminal case, however, there’s a possibility that the defendant can go to jail. Jail, fines, probation, and counseling are all on the table in a criminal offense. The exact criminal charges determine the amount of maximum jail time that’s possible for the defendant in the case. In a criminal case, the primary penalties are jail time and fines that are paid to the court. While the defendant may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim, the primary purpose of the criminal proceeding is to have the person answer to the courts and to society for their crimes.

A Criminal Case Doesn’t Provide for Full Compensation for a Victim Compared to a Civil Case

Restitution is a possibility in a criminal case. The court may order the defendant to pay direct financial losses to the victim. However, the criminal court typically doesn’t evaluate or assess pain and suffering. They don’t look at future damages throughout the lifetime of the victim. The damages that are available in a civil case are much more comprehensive. Only a civil case can give a victim all of the compensation that they may deserve.

Nevada Civil Injury Attorneys

Do you have a question about a civil case? Are you wondering if you can bring a civil claim? Our attorneys can help. We are prepared to fight for justice for you. Let us help you understand the difference between civil and criminal cases and what you need to do to receive justice. Call us today.


[1] Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure.


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Adam S. Kutner

Adam S. Kutner Personal Injury Lawyer

With more than 30 years of experience fighting for victims of personal injury in the Las Vegas valley, Attorney Adam S. Kutner knows his way around the Nevada court system and how to get clients their settlement promptly and trouble-free.