Overview of Litigation

There are two main types of litigation: Criminal or civil. Criminal proceedings are used when a person commits a violation of a state or federal law. The two parties in a criminal litigation are the government and the accused person. The accused person is presumed innocent until the government is able to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Because criminal cases usually involve the loss of a person's freedom, this required standard of proof is higher than that of a civil proceeding. Both types of litigation may be settled by the parties before the case ever reaches a trial. A civil case may reach a financial settlement, while a criminal prosecutor may accept a plea bargain where the defendant admits to being guilty of a lesser charge.

The government is represented by a prosecutor in a criminal litigation, either a federal prosecutor for federal cases or a district attorney for state cases. The defendant is usually represented by an attorney of their choice, but may also be assigned a public defender to argue on their behalf if they are unable to obtain legal help on their own. Defendants are permitted to appear without any representation, but this is generally not recommended.

Criminal offenses are split into two categories based on their severity: Felonies and misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is a minor crime that is only subject to a year or less in jail. Most misdemeanors require a fine and community service instead of jail time. Some common misdemeanors include breaking and entering, possession of minimal amounts of controlled substances, and petty theft. Felonies are more serious crimes which are subject to longer jail terms, such as rape, murder, or kidnapping. Some very serious felonies may even subject the defendant to the death penalty in some states.

The main difference between the types of litigation is that a civil proceeding does not involve a criminal offense. It may be between two private parties or an individual may file a claim against the government or a corporation. The plaintiff generally seeks financial reimbursement for damages suffered, to request an injunction preventing the defendant from performing a certain activity, or to enforce a contract against the defendant and compel them to perform their obligations. The standard of proof in civil litigation is much lower than that of a criminal proceeding. The plaintiff must only show that the defendant is liable by a "preponderance of the evidence."

For more information about your case, you can request a free consultation with an attorney in your area.