Personal Injury Attorneys » Personal Injury Claims » Can a Case Be Both Criminal and Civil?
A gavel sitting on top of an open book during a civil case.


    One question that arises when someone has been injured by another’s negligence that resulted in a crime being committed is whether their case could be both criminal and civil. Our experienced Nevada personal injury attorneys are here to help explain the differences between criminal and civil cases and why your case could consist of both legal processes.

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    What is the difference between a criminal case and a civil case?

    There are distinct differences between a criminal case and a civil case. A criminal case is where someone has been charged for an alleged violation of the law. If the defendant is found guilty, they will face criminal penalties and potentially jail time.

    A civil case involves disputes between two parties over private rights or remedies, such as contracts, torts, employment matters, debt collection, and other matters not involving imprisonment as punishment. Civil cases are about compensatory damages. If they are found liable, the defendant usually has to pay monetary damages to compensate the plaintiff.

    How can a case be both criminal and civil?

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

    For example, a drunk driver causes a car accident resulting in serious injuries to yourself. Not only would the driver face criminal DUI charges but also a personal injury claim for the damages they caused due to their negligence.

    Criminal and civil case similarities

    Both criminal cases and civil lawsuits involve two sides — a plaintiff (or accuser) and a defendant. Both use evidence to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Similarly, in both cases, issues at trial can include testimony from witnesses and the introduction of physical evidence.

    Criminal and civil case differences

    In criminal cases, the government brings charges against an individual for violations of criminal law. The prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Conviction may result in jail time or other punishment decided by judges within sentencing guidelines. The purpose is to punish individuals who violate society’s laws.

    Unlike criminal cases, civil cases often arise out of private disputes between parties over matters such as contracts, torts, and property rights and damages. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, the party filing suit.

    They must prove their claim against the defendant by clear and convincing evidence. However, the burden of proof has a lower threshold than in criminal court. A successful civil claim usually results in monetary rewards paid to the plaintiff through a settlement or court-ordered judgment.

    Can a civil case turn criminal?

    A civil case can prompt a criminal investigation if the evidence gathered indicates that a law has been broken and a crime committed. However, a civil case doesn’t turn criminal because 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.

    Who can initiate a criminal proceeding vs. a civil proceeding?

    The process to initiate a criminal proceeding vs. a civil proceeding is brought by different parties. The party initiating the case in either proceeding is referred to as the plaintiff. 

    For a Criminal Proceeding:

    In a criminal proceeding, only a state attorney, called a district attorney or prosecutor, can file a criminal proceeding. They will gather evidence based on the initial complaint from the victim and decide whether to proceed with criminal charges.

    Should the prosecutor file charges, the victim has no say as to the outcome of the case. It is entirely up to the prosecutor to decide whether to extend a plea offer to the defendant or take the case to trial. At trial, a judge or jury will determine the defendant’s innocence or guilt.  

    For a Civil Proceeding:

    On the other hand, any victim can initiate a civil case. The plaintiff files the lawsuit in their own name and on their own behalf, often with assistance from an attorney experienced in civil matters.

    In a civil case, the victim decides how to handle the case and what legal steps to take along the way with input from their lawyer. This typically involves litigation in an attempt to reach a settlement without having to go to trial.  

    Should the case go to trial, a jury will determine whether the defendant was negligent and had a duty of care to the plaintiff. The jury also recommends the amount of damages the defendant has to pay. However, a judge can alter the amount awarded in certain cases. 

    Are the burdens of proof 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, 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.

    A good example is the O.J. Simpson trial. Simpson was deemed not guilty in criminal court but found guilty of negligence in civil court.

    Are different remedies available in a criminal case compared to a civil proceeding?

    Just as the legal process for criminal cases and civil cases are different, so are the remedies. 

    Civil Case Remedies

    Criminal cases provide for criminal penalties such as fines, restitution, probation, or jail sentences. The exact criminal charges determine the maximum sentencing guidelines used by the judge to determine an appropriate punishment for the crime. The primary penalties are jail time and fines 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 society for their crimes. 

    Criminal Case Remedies

    Civil cases generally provide for monetary payments by the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for damages incurred. These cases also consider other court-issued requirements like injunctions and temporary restraining orders. They might also order the defendant to turn property over to the plaintiff. 

    A criminal case doesn’t provide full compensation for a victim compared to a civil case

    While restitution is a possibility in a criminal case, it is not a guarantee. Even when the court orders the defendant to pay direct financial losses to the victim, this does not mean they will be fully compensated. Restitution is based on the defendant’s ability to pay. 

    For example, if the defendant is sentenced to jail, they would not pay restitution until they were released and found gainful employment. Additionally, once they start working, the amount of restitution they are required to pay is based on their earnings. 

    Furthermore, they may only be required to pay restitution for the duration of their probation. Meaning, if they are only required to pay $300 a month for 36 months because that is how long their probation is, it does not matter how much actual restitution was awarded by the criminal court. 

    In addition, criminal courts do not account for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, and other damages that can be sought in a civil case, nor do they 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 victims all the compensation they may deserve. The monetary amount of damages can also be more significant in civil cases because insurance companies are often involved. 

    Ultimately, obtaining legal assistance from a personal injury lawyer can help determine the potential damages one can pursue in a civil case.

    Can a case be both criminal and civil?

    As evident from the information provided, a case can be both criminal and civil. A single incident or alleged offense can give rise to both types of proceedings. Therefore, speaking to an experienced personal injury lawyer is crucial to determine your legal options and rights. 

    Experienced Nevada civil injury attorneys

    A personal injury attorney fills out paperwork on his desk. Next to him is a gavel.

    Are you wondering if you can bring a civil claim against someone who committed a crime against you? If you or a loved one has sustained an injury due to another’s negligence, let the skilled personal injury attorneys at Adam S. Kutner, Injury Attorneys help you understand the difference between civil and criminal cases. We will work tirelessly to help you seek justice and get the monetary compensation you deserve. 

    Call (702) 382-0000 for a free consultation

    Adam S. Kutner is a top 100 trial lawyer with 33 years’ experience and expertise that will benefit you

    Call us at (702) 382-0000 anytime to schedule a free consultation. We will work to get you the maximum settlement as quickly as possible so you can move forward on your healing journey.


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      Adam S. Kutner - Las Vegas Car Accident Lawyer
      Adam S. Kutner

      With more than 33 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.