Civil lawyers should be distinguished from criminal lawyers. Both go to the same type of law schools, and receive the same legal education. Both civil and criminal attorneys also sit for the same bar examination before becoming attorneys. But civil attorneys and criminal lawyers usually practice an entirely different set of laws in different court systems.
The criminal attorney solves problems that arise when a person commits a “public wrong” against all of the other citizens of society as a whole. Public wrongs are generally more serious than private wrongs, often involving violence, premeditation, and grievous bodily injury.
Private citizens usually need criminal attorneys when they are accused of a crime by the state. Prosecuting a citizen under criminal law is the sole power of the state and thus can only be exercised by district attorneys working for a government; private criminal attorneys cannot bring charges.
Often, civil law cases involve substantial amounts of money, whereas criminal cases do not necessarily.
What Rights Do I Have Under Criminal Law That Are Absent From Civil Law?
Rights are not completely absent from one side of the law if they are found in the other side. However, criminal law does place a higher priority on defendant’s rights than civil law because the consequences for a defendant who loses a criminal law case are much higher than civil law.
In civil law, the penalties for losing are usually monetary and perhaps an injunction or court order to desist from such behavior in the future. In criminal law though, the penalty for conviction can include prison time or even death. As such, criminal defendants have the following rights, rights which may not be automatic in civil law:
- Right to remain silent
- Right to an attorney
- Right not to be tried for the same offense
- Right to a speedy trial
- Right to confront witnesses
When Do I Need a Civil Law Lawyer?
If you are in need of an attorney in order to incorporate a business, get money for property damage, recover for injury in an automobile accident, file for bankruptcy, buy an expensive piece of real estate, change amount of child support, or apply for an immigration visa, you generally are looking for a civil attorney.
When Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer?
You need a criminal defense attorney when you are accused of a crime by the police and/or district attorney. This can range from misdemeanors, like shoplifting, to actual felonies, such as rape. If you want to charge someone with a crime, you should speak with the police and/or local district attorney’s office.