The American Justice system consists of two essential categories of case, namely criminal and civil cases. Even though the laws relating to the two categories are distinct, there is some element of commonality between the two types of cases. Criminal cases involve crimes committed against the state; the state takes the legal action. On the other hand, civil cases are disputes between people relating to the responsibilities and legal duties they owe each other. To understand the American justice system, it is important to examine the two systems; highlighting how each system works.
Criminal Justice system
In the system of criminal justice, the victim reports an offense to the police who would investigate. In case the accused is taken into custody after doing an investigation, and there exists substantial evidence to try him or her, the prosecuting attorney files charges against the accused and seeks prosecution. In the criminal justice system, the action which resulted in the harm is referred to as a crime or offense. Presently, the criminal justice system is informed by the notion that any crime committed harms the state (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013). This insight enlightens on how the system operates, highlighting its basics.
In a case involving criminal law, the prosecuting party is often the district attorney; the state or jurisdictions attorney. The prosecuting attorney represents the interests of the public; does not serve the legal interests of the victim. He or she controls all important decisions relating to the case, determining whether to charge, the type of crime and whether to accept or offer a plea agreement or proceed with the trial (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013). If found guilty, the punishments imposed on the defendant can include imprisonment or incarceration, forfeitures and fine, community services, probation and even restitution to the victim. In criminal justice, the prosecuting party has the burden of proof; he or she has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. This burden is often difficult to realize as opposed to evidences preponderance standard which is utilized in civil cases (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013).
Civil Justice System
Irrespective of whether criminal charges were pursued or whether the accused was not guilty as determined by the courts, victims can still pursue justice by filing civil suits against individuals whom they believe to have brought the harm. Unlike the criminal justice system which strives to prove guilt, the civil justice system determines whether the defendant is responsible for the harm that the victim suffered. In a civil suit, the victimized party normally seeks the legal service of a private attorney and takes control of all the important cases decisions such as determining whether to proceed with a trial or accept an offer of settlement. In this system, the act of harm is referred to as a tort (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013). The victim is pursuing compensation; typically in monetary terms, for the damages incurred due to the tort.
The extent of evidence required to claim victory in civil cases is referred to as the evidences preponderance. This concept implies that the victims evidence should be more persuasive than the defendants evidence for him or her to win the civil suit (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013). As opposed to the burden of proof needed in criminal cases, this burden is significantly low. As articulated in statutes; the statutes of limitation, there are given time limits which stipulate the amount of time one has to file a civil suit after suffering harm. These limits often vary across states (Hemmens, Brody & Spohn, 2013). If a civil suit is filed outside the given time limits, it would be dismissed on time-barred grounds.
In conclusion, civil and criminal cases vary based on the objectivity of each; civil seeks redress while criminal pursues punishment. The primary goal of the civil law is to redress wrongdoings by imposing restitution or compensation. The defendant is not penalized or punished; the extent of harm imposed only makes good for the harm he or she has brought. The individual who has incurred damages benefits legally; at least he or she does not incur a loss. In a criminal case, on the other hand, the primary goal is to punish the offender. The criminal law seeks to give the offender and other offenders a strong deterrent against committing such crimes, and to rehabilitate him or her while satisfying the public rationality that any offense should be met with retribution.
Hemmens, C., Brody, D. C., & Spohn, C. C. (2013). Criminal courts: A contemporary perspective (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
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