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1.9: End-of-Chapter Material

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    A crime is an action or inaction in violation of criminal law. Criminal laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

    The study of criminal law defines crimes and defenses to crimes. The study of criminal procedure focuses on the rights of citizens against government intrusion. Criminal procedure generally governs the rights of the accused and is associated with criminal investigation, arrest, interrogation, trial, and appeal.

    A civil lawsuit or civil litigation matter resolves a dispute between individuals, called a plaintiff (the injured party) and defendant (the alleged wrongdoer). Every civil litigation matter includes a plaintiff, which has suffered harm. The goal of the civil litigation matter is to compensate the plaintiff for injury. The court can compensate the plaintiff by awarding money, called damages. Generally, parties in civil litigation are not entitled to court-appointed lawyers and must hire private attorneys (or represent themselves).

    The government initiates a criminal prosecution and seeks to deprive the accused of his or her liberty. The government is represented by a prosecutor, who has formally accused the defendant (the alleged wrongdoer) of a crime. Some criminal prosecutions do not include a victim, or harm, because the goal of the criminal prosecution is holding the defendant accountable for his or her conduct, not compensation. Every criminal prosecution involves the government, so the US and state constitutions provide the criminal defendant with extra protections not present in a civil lawsuit, such as court-appointed counsel for the indigent.

    Crimes can be classified according to the severity of punishment. The most serious crimes are felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and have less severe available sentences. Certain conduct can be either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances. Infractions, also called violations, are the least serious offenses and generally do not involve incarceration. The purposes of punishing a criminal defendant are both specific and general deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restitution.

    Each party in a civil or criminal trial must meet a burden of proof, which consists of a burden of producing evidence and a burden of persuading the trier of fact. The burden of proof for a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the trier of fact must be convinced that the dispute is more likely true than not. The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof our legal system requires. Proof beyond a reasonable double is a nebulous concept, but it is evidence that is of such a compelling nature that rebuts the defendant’s presumption of innocence. The burden of proof for a criminal defense varies. The evidence presented to meet the burden of proof can be circumstantial, which indirectly proves a fact, or direct, which directly proves a fact.

    Key Takeaways

    • A crime is an act committed in violation of a law prohibiting it or omitted in violation of a law ordering it. In general, the criminal law must be enacted before the crime is committed.
    • Criminal law generally defines the rights and obligations of individuals in society. Criminal procedure generally concerns the enforcement of individuals’ rights during the criminal process.
    • Civil law regulates the private rights of individuals. Criminal law regulates individuals’ conduct to protect the public.
    • Civil litigation is a legal action between individuals to resolve a civil dispute. Criminal prosecution is when the government prosecutes a defendant to punish illegal conduct.
    • The burden of proof is a party’s obligation to prove a charge, allegation, or defense.
    • The burden of production is the duty to present evidence to the trier of fact. The burden of persuasion is the duty to convince the trier of fact to a certain standard, such as the preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt.
    • The civil burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, for both the plaintiff and the defendant. The criminal burden of proof for the prosecution is beyond a reasonable doubt.
    • The criminal burden of proof for the defense is generally a preponderance of the evidence. States vary on whether they require the criminal defendant to meet both the burden of production and persuasion or just the burden of production. Different defenses also require different burdens of proof.
    • In states that require the defendant to meet only the burden of production, the prosecution must disprove the defense depending on the state.
    • An inference is a conclusion the trier of fact may make if it chooses to. A presumption is a conclusion the trier of fact must make.
    • Circumstantial evidence indirectly proves a fact. A fingerprint at the scene of the crime, for example, indirectly proves that because the defendant was present at the scene, the defendant committed the crime. Direct evidence directly proves a fact. If the defendant confesses to a crime, for example, this is direct evidence that the defendant committed the crime.
    • Grading is based on the severity of punishment.
    • Felonies are graded the highest. Punishment options for felonies include the following:
      • Capital punishment (if authorized by State)
      • Prison time
      • Momentary Fines
      • Alternative sentencing such as probation, rehabilitation, and home confinement
    • Misdemeanors are graded lower than felonies. Punishment options for misdemeanors include the following:
      • Jail time of one year or less per misdemeanor
      • Monetary Fines
      • Alternative sentencing such as probation, rehabilitation, and community service
    • Felony-misdemeanors are punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
    • Infractions, also called violations, are graded lower than misdemeanors and have less severe punishment options:
      • Monetary Fines
      • Alternative sentencing, such as traffic school
      • Incarceration not authorized
    • Alaska is different than most states when it comes to jails and prisons. In most states, the difference between jail and prison is that cities and counties operate jails, and the state or federal government operates prisons, depending on the crime. In Alaska, all jails and prisons are operated at the state level. The restrictive nature of the confinement is another difference. Jails are for defendants who have committed less serious offenses, so they are generally less restrictive than prisons.
    • Specific deterrence prevents crime by frightening an individual defendant with punishment.
    • General deterrence prevents crime by frightening other potential defendants with the punishment of an individual defendant.
    • Incapacitation prevents crime by removing a defendant from society.
    • Rehabilitation seeks to reform a defendant’s behavior to prevent future crime.
    • Retribution prevents crime by giving victims or society a feeling of avengement. Retribution is not a valid form of punishment in Alaska.
    • Restitution seeks to restore the victim or the community by requiring the defendant to financially repair the damage caused by the criminal behavior.
    • The components of a case brief are the following:
      • The title, plus citation. The citation indicates where to find the case.
      • The substantive facts. The substantive facts discuss what happened to instigate the case.
      • The issue. The issue is the question the court is examining.
      • The rule or substantive holding. The rule answers the issue question and is the case law.
      • The rationale. The rationale is the reason the court held the way it did.

    Answer to The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law – Law and Ethics Question

    1. Following a criminal trial, the trial jury may only return one of two verdicts: “guilty” or “not guilty.” When a jury renders a not guilty verdict the jury is publicly stating that the government has failed to meet its burden – proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The technical term of a not guilty verdict is an acquittal. Neither “not guilty” nor “acquittal” is synonymous with “innocent.” While all factually innocent defendants should be acquitted, not all defendants who are acquitted are factually innocent. In some situations, a defendant is acquitted following a jury trial even though there is evidence of guilt (albeit inadmissible evidence). Take for example a case in which the defendant confesses to a crime. If the confession is suppressed as a result of police misconduct (and thereby rendered inadmissible at trial), the defendant may be acquitted, even though the inadmissible evidence suggests that the defendant is factually guilty.
    2. The reason criminal defendants get special protection in a criminal prosecution, which is not extended to civil litigation defendants is the harshness of the punishment and the inequality of the criminal prosecution itself. Criminal defendants face the loss of their life and liberty at the hands of the government. The deprivation of one’s liberty is significant. Civil litigation defendants, on the other hand, only risk the loss of money. Criminal defendants, unlike civil defendants, face the intimidating prospect of fighting the government and its vast resources. Civil litigation defendants are squaring off against another individual. As a society, we believe in the Blackstonian principle that there is nothing as unjust as punishing an innocent person. Thus, we afford criminal defendants special protections, not available to a civil litigant.
    3. The criminal trial took place first because O.J. Simpson was a criminal defendant and therefore had the benefit of the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to self-incrimination and speedy trial, respectively.

    This page titled 1.9: End-of-Chapter Material is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Rob Henderson via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.