A criminal case is a court case in which someone is tried for engaging in activity that has been outlawed by the legislature or the government because it is deemed antisocial in nature. The accused in such a case is considered to have committed a crime against the government in addition to a crime against an individual. If convicted, the accused in a criminal case may be ordered to pay a fine, go to jail, perform community service, or complete other aspects of a sentence, such as attending a substance abuse treatment program.
The process of trying a criminal case starts with an offense and a victim reporting the offense to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers collect information about the offense and send it to a prosecutor, who is an employee of the government. The prosecutor determines whether or not there are grounds to move forward with a criminal case. In nations that use a grand jury, the prosecutor must bring a list of charges known as an indictment to the grand jury, which rules on the validity of the indictment to authorize a trial.
In criminal cases, victims do not decide whether or not the case is prosecuted in court. This decision is up to the prosecutor. The victim may be asked to serve as a witness to provide information. There is a high standard of proof in criminal cases and the defendant is entitled to a jury and to have a lawyer provided by the government if one cannot be afforded. There are numerous protections in criminal cases that are designed to ensure that the accused is fairly represented in court.
In civil cases, people are tried for committing wrongs against each other, such as failing to exercise due care in business transactions or depriving people of something to which they are entitled by right. These wrongs do not necessarily harm society as a whole. The standard of proof is lower in civil cases and the accused is not entitled to a lawyer or to a jury. The outcome of a civil case also differs from a criminal case. Although a fine can be imposed after a conviction, the convicted person cannot be imprisoned.
It is possible for someone to be tried for an action in a criminal case and also in a civil case. A classic example is a murder. The murder is regarded as a crime against society, so it is prosecuted as a criminal case. However, it is also harms the family of the victim, which may take the accused to court to sue for damages.