Read Time: 7 Minutes


No matter your situation, when searching for a lawyer it's important that you find a firm with both civil attorneys and criminal attorneys at the practice. Long & Jean Law Group in Pompano Beach, Florida is exactly this type of firm, which is part of what enables us to provide exceptional service and the best legal knowledge to each of our clients.

If you're not sure whether you need a civil or criminal attorney, continue reading. There are differences between each type of legal specialty, though occasionally they can cross with each other in the court room. At Long & Jean Law Group, we are here to guide you each step of the way and to ensure that you receive the best legal representation on your day in court.

The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Law

People may not realize that there are different types of law, and that a lawyer who represents someone who has been arrested may not be the best lawyer to also represent a person who is suing another individual. This is the essential difference between the two types of law; criminal law is when a charge has been brought against an individual or group by a body of law enforcement. Civil law is a more broad term that involves legal disputes that take place between individual entities, without law enforcement.

What is Criminal Law?

As discussed, criminal law comes into play when a law has been broken. This can happen when an individual person has been arrested for something such as a DUI, theft, or assault, or when a business or organization is charged with fraud or tax evasion, for example. If there is a body of law enforcement or government filing the charge, you will need a criminal lawyer.

Law enforcement and government bodies include local police officers and state troopers, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, and so on. Most often, when a person is arrested by a local police officer or state trooper, their criminal case will be heard in a local court, either municipal or at the county seat. The more serious the charge, the higher level of court you will appear before. For example, if federal criminal charges have been brought against you, you will appear in federal court. If you are arrested on a misdemeanor charge, you will appear in municipal court, barring any extenuating circumstances.

If you are facing a criminal charge, a lawyer will represent the government to prosecute you and you will need a criminal defense attorney.

What is Civil Law?

Civil law can be much more complex than criminal law, because there can be many different entities and reasons involved. Civil law cases are established when there is a dispute between two people or organizations, and the government or law enforcement is not involved.

This can take many forms. Lawsuits involving car accidents, animal attacks, or slip and fall injuries are examples of cases that are heard in civil court. But the definition reaches far beyond just those circumstances. Contract violations, say between a landlord and tenant, or civil rights issues, such as employment discrimination cases, also fall under civil law. Divorce and child custody are another common form of civil litigation.

Civil cases are handled entirely by private attorneys who are not backed by the state or federal government. If you are being sued by another person, or plan to file a lawsuit, you will need a civil attorney to represent you in pre-court proceedings or a courtroom if the case progresses that far. Oftentimes, civil suits can be settled out of court by attorney mediation.

Do Criminal and Civil Law Ever Overlap?

In short, yes, criminal and civil cases can overlap, which is why choosing a law firm that has experience with each is the wisest choice. To understand why, we need to break it down a little further. There are several reasons why criminal and civil law can overlap. Sometimes a single act or occurrence can both break the law and cause reason for an individual or organization to file a civil suit.

For example, a physical altercation between two people that takes place while either one or both of the parties are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One of the individuals is badly injured by the other and they require reconstructive surgery as a result of the altercation. There are two possible issues present here, the criminal and the civil aspects, each of which will be handled in a different court.

Police arrive on the scene and the person is arrested, charged with assault and a drunk & disorderly conduct charge. This is a criminal act; they have broken a law established by the government. However, the person that has been injured and requires surgery has the right to bring a civil case before a court as well, filing for restitution and compensation relating to medical bills, missed work, or other damages.

This is one incident that has resulted in the need for both a criminal defense lawyer and a civil lawyer, for two separate court trials.

What Are the Differences and Similarities of the Proceedings in Criminal and Civil Courts?

Criminal and civil court operate slightly differently from each other. Some people are surprised to learn that both courts can have juries, although neither is required to have a jury all the time. Also, with both criminal and civil law, sometimes cases never reach the court room at all.

In civil suits, lawyers can participate in mediating, where an agreement is reached without the need for a judge or jury. This can happen in divorce cases, or personal injury cases when a company or organization is eager to reach a settlement. With criminal cases, it is sometimes possible that the charges against the individual are dropped before the case reaches a court room for a variety of reasons, such as lack of evidence. It's important to note that a dismissal of a criminal case still takes place in a courtroom and is approved by a judge, but it is not always necessary for the defendant to be present for the proceeding if their lawyer appears on their behalf.

The largest difference between criminal and civil court proceedings lies in how legal proof is presented and considered. In criminal court, the defendant is always considered innocent until proven otherwise, and the government or prosecutor must compile enough proof that the defendant can be considered guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the burden of proof is much lower, and it is generally considered that if the party is more than 50% liable, they are deemed guilty.

Criminal and civil courts also offer different protections to the accused in each. In criminal court, the defendant may plead the fifth amendment, which provides them with the constitutional right not to incriminate themselves. Furthermore, defendants in criminal cases have the right to due process and a speedy trial, which is especially important if they are incarcerated pending a trial.

Why You Should Find a Law Firm That Does Both Criminal and Civil Law

When searching for a law firm to either represent you when filing a claim or defend you if criminal charges or a lawsuit have been brought against you, it's best to find a firm that practices both criminal and civil law. The reason for this is that while the two practices of law do differ in multiple ways, there are common situations in which they overlap.

While criminal lawyers do not always practice civil law and civil lawyers do not always practice criminal law, when you choose a firm that includes both, you will have a law firm you already trust should you require representation of both forms in court. Alternately, even if you do not need a lawyer for both types of cases this time, should the need ever arise in the future you will already know where to turn. If you ever have a friend or family member who is in need of legal representation, no matter what the situation you will also know a trustworthy law firm to refer them to.

When facing a court proceeding, no matter which side of the bench you are on, whether you're the plaintiff or defendant, you'll want to make sure that you have the best representation possible.

If you're looking for more information on legal representation contact us today for a free case evaluation.