In the American legal system, there are two different categories of cases: criminal and civil. Criminal cases typically involve an infraction that is considered detrimental to society at large. If you sell drugs or conduct insider trading, then the government can prosecute you. In such cases, you could face criminal charges—and possible jail time if convicted.
Civil cases usually involve an incident in which one party neglects to fulfill their duty to another party. If you leave an instrument inside a patient during surgery, or you break the terms of a contract you signed, then the party you harmed can take you to court. In such cases, you could face civil charges—the penalty for which is usually monetary.
Can I face criminal and civil charges for the same crime?
In general, civil cases can lead to a defendant losing money, while criminal cases can lead to a defendant losing their freedom. Under some circumstances, however, a defendant can face both criminal and civil charges for the same crime.
For example, if you drive under the influence and get into an accident, the government can prosecute you for breaking the law. You may lose your driver’s license, and you may even go to jail. If, however, this accident led to the death of another person, that person’s family can also file a wrongful death lawsuit against you.
Why isn’t this double jeopardy?
“Double jeopardy” is a condition under the Fifth Amendment that protects any individual from being tried twice for the same crime. However, it’s worth noting that this protection only prevents multiple criminal cases for the same offense. It is legal for the government to prosecute you for a crime and for the victim of that same crime to also sue you for damages.
Facing criminal charges of any kind can be stressful and complicated. It’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will investigate every possible path to getting your charges dropped or reduced.