Civil law regulates the private rights of individuals. Criminal law regulates the conduct of individuals to protect the public. Civil litigation is a legal action between individuals to resolve a civil dispute. Criminal prosecution is when the government prosecutes a defendant to punish illegal conduct.
On the contrary, civil laws deal with the private rights of individuals. Civil laws apply when a person's rights have been violated or when people have disputes with other people or organizations. Some civil law matters are dealt with outside a court of law, for example, through an external mediator. Alternatively, lawsuits can be resolved through a non-criminal trial.
Civil cases usually involve disputes between individuals or organizations, while criminal cases allege a violation of criminal law. Both civil and criminal cases consider violations of people's rights and who is at fault. However, they differ in structure, burden of proof and penalties. In a nutshell, civil law deals with individual rights or interests (such as contractual interests) that have been violated by another person or organization and that justify the filing of a lawsuit.
It is important to note that, since a single wrongful act can constitute both a public crime and private harm, it can result in criminal and civil charges. Civil law deals with behavior that constitutes an injury to a person or other private party, such as a corporation. Criminal law deals with conduct that is or can be interpreted as an offence against the public, society, or the state, even if the immediate victim is an individual. In a civil case, the jury can order the defendant to be held responsible for a wrongful act that pays compensation for damages (financial compensation) to the plaintiff.
Both parts of the law require serious work, and becoming a lawyer requires years of study, practice, and determination. While criminal law was designed to protect the welfare of the state from actions considered threatening or harmful to its general security, civil law focuses on private relationships between members of a given community or society. As you embark on your studies, one of the first things you study is understanding the difference between criminal and civil law. Since there is much more at stake for a defendant in a criminal case than between two parties in a civil case, the judicial system also includes safeguards to protect the rights of the accused.
In criminal law, crimes are considered crimes against the State, but some cases will be prosecuted both in civil and criminal matters if, for example, the victim sues the perpetrator for civil damages resulting from the crime. As a litigant, there is also the possibility that you may be assigned a case that was once in criminal court (that is, the law and society view time in jail, or imprisonment, as the loss of personal freedom and, therefore, a more severe penalty than a monetary fine). Fortunately, most law schools understand this and don't require incoming students to immediately define the type of law they will apply for when enrolling. Check out research tips and tools from the American Bar Association or Princeton Review for emerging law students.
If you are planning to pursue a degree in Justice Studies, you may be interested in focusing on a career in criminal or civil law. In the United States, there are two bodies of laws whose purpose is to prevent or punish serious violations or to compensate victims of such violations.