How is civil procedure different from criminal procedure?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Civil procedure applies to the process where two parties bring a case to the court for a decision on a particular matter. These matters can include divorces, estate distribution, injury cases, or even matters such as discrimination in the workplace. Criminal procedure applies to the process where the state or federal government is arresting and trying someone for a crime that was committed. The rules of civil procedure are different than that of criminal procedure because the proceedings are different.

Civil Procedure

Civil procedure dictates that a civil case must begin with filing a complaint. The complaint is served to the offending party who then drafts and files an answer with the court. Anyone can be a party to a civil case including people, businesses, and government entities. When parties go before the court in a civil case, it is to determine whether a person was injured and how much they should be compensated for that injury. All of this information is specifically drafted into the documents.

Civil cases still have some Constitutional protection in place. For instance, the parties to a case must file and receive consent of the court in order to start the discovery process. During discovery, the parties are free to investigate each other’s property and information in order to gain access to necessary evidence for their case. If the parties search an area that was not covered by the discovery documents, that piece of evidence will not be considered in court.

Civil procedure then dictates all the motions, meetings, and even the civil trial. Unlike the rules of evidence that can be used in both criminal and civil cases, the rules of civil procedure and the various motions and meetings that happen do not occur in a criminal proceeding. For example, according to the rules of civil procedure, if the defense proves that there are no facts that the parties are arguing in the case, then they can file a motion for summary judgment. This allows the judge to decide the case based only the two initial filings, saving the parties time and money.

The key idea to abstract from civil procedure is efficiency. The rules of civil procedure are designed to make the process efficient and smooth and prevent long trials where they are not needed. This is possible because the only thing at stake for the defendant is money.

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Criminal Procedure

Criminal procedure is designed to safeguard the Constitutional rights of people being investigated, accused, and tried of crimes. A criminal investigation begins with a crime happening. The police determine suspects and start questioning people. In order to question anyone or go into anyone’s home, the police must obtain a warrant from a judge. If a warrant is not pursued, then the evidence and anything else that was found as the result of that piece of evidence are all thrown out.

During a criminal trial, the state or federal government is accusing a person or people of the crime. If the accused person cannot afford an attorney, criminal procedure requires that one is given to them through the public defender’s office. Anyone who is accused and questioned is always reminded of their Constitutional rights, including the right to meet with their attorney and the right to remain silent when questioned. Even after a criminal case is over and the accused person sentenced, they are permitted to appeal their case as high as necessary if there is a mistake.

The key ideal to abstract from criminal procedure is Constitutional protection. The rules of criminal procedure are designed to protect an accused person’s Constitutional rights and prevent the government from wrongfully or unfairly accusing and prosecuting someone of a crime. The reason for these additional safeguards is that someone’s freedom and reputation are at stake in a criminal trial.

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