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Corpus Christi, TX 78404
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What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law?


From best-selling novels to award-winning TV shows and podcasts, people are fascinated by how the media portrays the American legal system. They’re drawn to the drama and suspense that goes on in the courtroom, and they love to see what lawyers do best (which is defend the innocent and prosecute the guilty). While this makes for good drama, how much do you know about how the practice of law actually works? Laws can be classified in a number of different ways, and one of the broader classifications divides them into two basic groups: civil and criminal.

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Elements of Criminal Law in Texas

Criminal law deals with a legal system that’s designed to punish or reform people who have committed some kind of criminal offense against a state or nation. It also includes crimes committed against individuals. Criminal laws vary based on the jurisdiction, and some of them are more severe than others. The prosecution for a criminal case involves the government deciding whether to punish someone for committing a crime and will be based on whether it falls in any of the following categories:

  • Misdemeanors — These types of crimes aren’t that serious and are classified with a letter system (in an A-C format) from least to most severe. Punishments can include fines, loss of certain privileges, and even jail time. Examples of misdemeanor offenses include parking violations, public intoxication, trespassing, petty drug crimes, disorderly conduct, and certain cases of weapons possession.
  • Felonies — These are the most serious types of criminal offenses. In the State of Texas, they’re classified according to their “degree.” Punishments for felony crimes can result in short or long prison sentences and even the death penalty. Examples of felonies can include murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, arson, as well as the sale or manufacture of drugs.

If you want to know more about criminal law in Texas, be sure to speak to a qualified attorney.

Aspects of Civil Law in Texas

The term “civil law” is used to describe any legal case that isn’t considered criminal, and it usually involves an attempt to settle a monetary or property-related dispute between private citizens. Civil law in Texas deals with individual rights or interests (such as contractual agreements) that have been violated by another person or organization. A civil lawsuit in Texas must be filed. In the courtroom, the participants on both sides of the case are referred to as “parties.”

Civil law is typically divided into four separate categories, which can intersect (depending on the specifics of the case):

  • Contract Law — Enforces and interprets agreements between people, businesses, or groups as it relates to the exchange of money, services, goods, or property
  • Property Law — Manages the different types of ownership with regard to personal property, real estate, or land.
  • Family Law — Involves issues related to the family relationships (such as child custody, divorce, adoption, paternity, and emancipation).
  • Tort Law — Covers most civil lawsuits in Texas and in other states, because it involves the law as it relates to the protection and compensation of people who have been hurt by the recklessness or negligence of someone engaged in wrongdoing.

Be sure to speak to a qualified attorney for more information.

Important Differences Between Civil and Criminal Law in Texas

The main difference between civil and criminal law is in how they’re dealt with in the courts. Criminal cases are prosecuted by state officials, while civil cases involve private individuals or organizations (which are called “plaintiffs”). In criminal cases, the prosecutor must be able prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person being charged is guilty. But, in civil cases, the plaintiff must prove with a “preponderance of evidence” that the defendant is liable.

How Civil and Criminal Law Can Intersect in the State of Texas

While civil and criminal law were meant to address two different types of wrongdoing, they do have some similarities. Sometimes, they can even meet in the middle. Criminal law deals with crimes that are committed against the state, but some cases will have both civil and criminal trials. The victim may decide to sue someone for civil damages that resulted from the crime, but neither case rulings will be mutually exclusive. A person who wasn’t convicted of a crime could still be liable in a civil lawsuit in Texas for the same actions.

If you have been charged with a crime and are looking for a criminal defense lawyer in Corpus Christi to help you with your case, be sure to get in touch with Gale Law Group.