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Criminal Action and Civil Action

The U.S. legal system recognizes two fundamental types of court cases: civil suits are used to resolve disputes between individuals usually with a cash payment from one to the other; criminal cases are used by government (society) to determine whether a person has committed a crime for which the person needs to be punished (e.g., fined or imprisoned).


Criminal Action and a Civil Action

The purpose of this page is to briefly distinguish between a criminal action and a civil action. Part of the difficulty is that a single act can lead to both types of legal actions. For example, stealing someone's property can give rise to 1) criminal charges being brought by the state and 2) a civil action wherein the owner of the stolen property demands that the thief return the property or compensate the owner for the value of the stolen property. However, a criminal action and civil action are distinct in terms of who brings the legal action, what level of proof is required to succeed, and what are the remedies.

A criminal action is brought by government (society) to determine whether the accused individual committed the unlawful act and to determine the guilty person’s punishment. Guilt must be determined beyond a reasonable doubt; that is, there can be no question or doubt in the minds of the jurors that the accused person committed the crime. The punishment will be imprisonment or a fine paid to the government.

N.D.C.C. §29-01-02. Criminal action medium of trial and punishment. The proceeding by which a party charged with a public offense is accused and brought to trial and punishment is known as a criminal action.

N.D.C.C. §29-01-03. How prosecution entitled. A criminal action is prosecuted in the name of the state of North Dakota as a party against the party charged with the offense.

A civil action is brought by a private party who has been injured or whose property has been damaged by some’s actions. The person bringing the suit (the plaintiff) is seeking to be paid for the injuries or damages they suffered; that is, to be compensated for the loss and "made financially whole again." The jury only needs to be convinced that the actor (the defendant) "more likely than not" caused the injury or damage; that is, there only needs to be a preponderance or majority of evidence, there does not have to be absolute certainly of the action. If found guilty of the tort, the wrongdoer will be required to compensate the injured party. A civil action will not result in a imprisonment or a fine being paid to the government.




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