Civil and criminal offenses are very different charges. If you or a loved one is charged with an offense, the type of charge will dictate who the prosecution is, how the case develops, where it is tried, and what the possible consequences may be. We recommend that you consult or hire a lawyer for either type of case, even if you are innocent and fully convinced you can explain the circumstances in court. The legal process and paperwork is very challenging to anyone new to court, and your definitions in plain English may mean something very different in the terms of a defense argument. An experienced civil or criminal lawyer will be able to listen to your version of events with an understanding of what is permissible to discuss in front of a judge as evidence.
At Mastro, Barnes & Stazzone P.C., we specialize in providing legal defense to individuals charged with a criminal offense. In this explanation, we will briefly cover both civil and criminal cases so you are empowered with more knowledge about our legal system; however, our focus will be on how to proceed if you or someone you know was arrested on criminal charges.
What is a civil case?
There are too many kinds of civil cases to mention, but they all have a basic format in common: a plaintiff (a single person, group, or entity such as a business organization) will claim that someone else (the defendant) failed to fulfill a legal duty or obligation that the plaintiff deserved by law. For example, a Denver landlord might become a plaintiff who claims one of his tenants – the defendant – failed to pay the amount of rent listed in the rental contract. In this example, the case would be held in Denver at the local level, but some civil cases can take place in a federal court if a federal statue or constitutional right (such as freedom of speech) was violated, or if the value in question is worth more than $75,000.
To be convicted of a civil charge, a preponderance of evidence – or more than 50% of the evidence – must point to such a conclusion. A judge will evaluate the evidence and make a ruling, as juries are rarely used to resolve civil cases.
Punishment and damages in civil cases
If the defendant in a civil case is found guilty, the punishment is typically a fine to compensate the plaintiff for his or her losses, or an order to the defendant not to do something. Because civil cases relate to violated rights and obligations and not intentional violence or theft, these charges are often less severe.
What is a criminal case?
Any crime is considered to be an offense to the good order of our society. That means that, even if there was a single victim, a group of victims affected, or no one specific person targeted or harmed, the crime will be prosecuted by the state itself and not by an aggrieved party. Unless a plea or other deal is reached prior to a trial, criminal cases are tried before a jury and the defendant can only be found guilty if the crime can be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Unlike a civil court, 50% of the evidence pointing to the accused person is not enough of a case to convict.
Punishment and damages in criminal cases
Another significant difference between criminal and civil cases is that a criminal case can carry sentences involving jail time in addition to fines, community service, etc. The prison sentence and fines vary by the severity of the crime, and you can see examples of maximum punishments in the state of Colorado by visiting the Practice Areas page or our post titled, “What Is the Difference Between a Robbery and a Burglary?”
Finding the right lawyer
If you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offense, the alleged offender has a right to receive legal counsel so he/she can understand the charges and legal options available. A public defender is a lawyer who will be automatically assigned to your case at no cost if you do not have your own lawyer. However, it’s advisable to choose your own legal representation by finding a lawyer with experience defending other clients facing similar charges.
At Mastro, Barnes & Stazzone P.C., we offer Free Consultations so you can meet our team, explain your situation, and decide for yourself what course of action is right for you and your loved ones. If you’re feeling overwhelmed while facing serious allegations in Denver, please contact our office for professional, qualified legal guidance as soon as possible.
Contact our lawyers today to start building your defense.