Civil vs. Criminal Law in Nevada

Civil or Criminal: Understanding the Differences

            You just were just hit by a drunk driver and the police are on their way.  Everyone is okay, but you’re sitting there wondering how this driver will be punished. Was this a civil crime or was is it a criminal act? To figure that out you must first understand the differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law.

            Let’s start with Civil Law. Civil Law refers to crimes committed against a person or persons. Examples of these crimes could be breaching a contract, using slander or threatening words, negligence, etc. The biggest thing to remember is a Civil case will always have a Plaintiff, or the person initiating the suit, and a Defendant, or the person being sued. These people could also be corporations or companies depending on what the case is about. Civil Law cases usually result in minor consequences such as fines and injunctions. These cases have verdicts of liable and not liable to determine the outcome and punishments of the parties and verdicts are often based on the preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means that any evidence presented will have to prove that it is more likely than not that defendant committed the act stated.

            Next, we have Criminal Law. Criminal Law refers to crimes that are committed against society or that could harm large numbers of people. Examples of Criminal Law would be murders, mass shootings, arson, burglary, etc. In a Criminal case, the defendant is the person who committed the crime and they are usually brought to court by the State or Prosecutor. These crimes have larger consequences because of the severity of the crimes being tried. Consequences include large fines, imprisonment, and in some cases, death. Unlike in a Civil case, these cases have verdicts of guilty or not guilty and has to be backed by the proof that the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the evidence and facts are so clear that there are no doubts that the crime was committed or not.

            Now go back to sitting on the side of the road waiting for the police. After analyzing the differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law, have you figured out the classification of the drunk driver’s case? If you are thinking Criminal, you are correct. The crime committed was negligent but could have harmed and even killed multiple people. This drunk driver was a danger to society and therefore will be a Criminal case. He will be put on trial and a verdict will be determined.


- Allison McKenzie