From literary works featuring Detective Sherlock Holmes to on-screen crime-fighter Detective Olivia Benson, fans all over the world have been able to see how our favorite fictional detectives solve crimes. However, they don’t often show what happens when the bad guys get caught and put on trial. 

The American legal system differentiates between the types of offenses. More serious crimes involving murder get handled differently than property disputes. Continue reading to learn the difference between criminal vs civil law.

What Is Criminal Law?

Criminal law refers to an individual’s criminal violations against the government. It is meant to punish or reform those who violate the laws via criminal acts. 

There are two levels of criminal law charges: misdemeanor and felony. A misdemeanor is for the less severe offenses and might include:

  • Public intoxication
  • Petty drug crimes
  • Disorderly conduct

A felony charge is for the more severe offenses one might make including:

  • Murder
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping

The courtroom procedures differ depending on the type of violation. For criminal law, these charges are usually brought forth by state officials. From there, the government convenes to protect the welfare of the community from outside threats. They have a guilty/non-guilty approach to criminal violations.

Learn more about criminal law offenses from legal experts at

What Is Civil Law?

Civil law refers to non-criminal offenses among private citizens. The cases usually relate to money or property disputes. There are four subsections in civil law, including contract law, property law, family law, and tort law.

Contract law is in place to enforce contracts among the involved parties. This means that the law will help to dissect the contract and hold the responsible party accountable for holding up their end of the contract. 

Property law looks into the ownership of personal property and physical (land) property. It ensures that the rightful owner of the property can get their possessions back without getting into trouble by doing so illegally.

Family law refers to cases involving custody, divorce, and emancipation among others. Its sole purpose is to help family units when they can’t come up with a solution on their own, due to differences of opinion or domestic violence. Family court helps each party work together to:

  • determine custody arrangements
  • come up with divorce agreements

Tort law deals with civil suits involving negligence and recklessness. It handles cases where someone gets injured at the hands of another person.

As far as courtroom proceedings go, they are different than in criminal law. These lawsuits are generally initiated by an individual or an organization that is looking for justice. They rely on solid evidence to decide to hold the liable party accountable for their actions. 

Criminal vs Civil Law: There Is a Huge Difference

Once you understand the difference between criminal vs civil law, you will see these famous fictional detectives in a whole new light. You may even come to understand what is happening in the news when there is mention of civil rights are violated or heinous crimes are committed against people in your community.

If you found this post to be helpful, make sure you check out our other law-related content.

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