Understanding the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Matters

What is the difference between a civil and a criminal matter? These differences can be crucial, especially in the case of a car accident. Both a can end up in court, but there are several important differences to know about.


The primary difference between a criminal matter and civil one lies in the consequences. The goal of civil litigation is the payment of money. The goal of criminal charges is whatever penalties the law provides. These can be fines, prison time, rehabilitation, or community service.

Who Is Involved?

Civil cases are between civilian entities. They are still tried in courts and they still involve attorneys, but you cannot ask for any kind of criminal sanction in a civil case. Criminal matters are between a government entity and a civilian entity. In a criminal matter, neither side may ask for civil penalties such as compensation for pain or suffering.


The standard of evidence is quite different between a criminal matter and civil matter. For example, ff you are facing criminal allegations, it is the duty of the prosecution to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you are guilty. This is because there are such significant penalties attached to a criminal allegation.

In civil matters, the bar is set much lower. The one seeking compensation only needs to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that their case is legitimate. In common terms, we might say that they only need to prove by 51% that they are in the right.

Who Can Bring a Charge?

In a criminal matter, only a representative of the state is authorized to bring a charge. Private entities are never permitted to bring a criminal proceeding against another entity. When it comes to civil charges, both the State and private entities may initiate proceedings.

How Does a Car Accident Work?

Is a car accident a civil matter or criminal matter? It all depends on the circumstances.

Criminal Car Accidents

Criminal charges are brought when the person responsible for the car accident has violated some law. For example, if someone was drunk or under the influence of illicit drugs at the time of the accident, the state will bring criminal charges. If someone was speeding recklessly or driving aggressively, the state may choose to bring criminal charges. If someone was driving without a license or in violation of a revoked license, it becomes a criminal matter. If the vehicle in question was not inspected or registered, or if the driver was not carrying state required insurance, these may result in criminal charges.

Car Accidents And Negligence

If no law was violated, the only remedy available is civil litigation, usually negligence, recklessness, or wrongful death. Of the three, the most common case is for negligence. Criminal negligence would involve violating the law, such as by texting while driving in a municipality where the law bans this behavior. If no law was violated, a civil litigation case must prove four separate elements in order to win a claim for negligence:

  • Duty The plaintiff in this case must prove that the driver had a duty to safely operate the vehicle.
  • Breach of Duty Next, it must be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the driver failed to operate vehicle in a reasonable or safe way.
  • Fault Next, the prosecution’s team must be able to establish that it was this breach of duty that directly caused the car accident.
  • Damage Finally, the prosecution must be able to show that it was this accident that caused the injuries or damage that they are seeking compensation for.

Should I Get an Attorney?

If you have been injured by someone else, whether they were negligent or in violation of the law, Consulting with a car accident attorney is a good idea. If you are being charged in a criminal matter or facing civil litigation, it’s even more important to have a good attorney on your side.

A criminal matter is quite different from a civil one, but both can have serious consequences. Whichever side of the matter you find yourself on, make sure you have a professional by your side who can help you understand the law and your rights.