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Differences Between Criminal Cases and Civil Trials

Criminal and civil cases differ in many ways. As the table at the bottom of this page illustrates, the legal proceedings can vary widely. Procedural rules affect everything from the parties involved to the types of evidence which may be admitted. Generally, because a defendant faces far greater consequences in a criminal trial, the standard of proof is higher.

The burden of proof is often discussed on television and movies as proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But that’s in a criminal case where the burden is much higher. Within civil cases, you only have to show proof by preponderance of evidence.

Very simply, proof by preponderance of evidence means you can prove that you are more right than wrong. That’s it. There is no certainty needed, no shadow of a doubt. You just need to prove to the judge or jury that you are slightly more right than the other party. It can be as little as 51% — just one percent more than the other party. You only need to tip the scales in your favor. Watch the video to learn more.


It is important to know that the same conduct can result in both criminal and civil liability for a defendant.

For more information about personal injury law in Ohio, explore our educational website. If you have legal questions, please phone us at 1-800-ELK-OHIO. We welcome your call.


Criminal Case

Civil Case

Parties Crimes are considered offenses against the state, or society as a whole and are prosecuted by the state Civil cases typically arise during a dispute between individuals regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe one another
Punishment May involve jail time and/or monetary fines Money damages awarded to the plaintiff; defendant may be ordered to do or not to do something
Standard of Proof “Beyond a reasonable doubt” “Preponderance of the evidence”
(More likely than not)
Jury Almost always allows for a jury May allow for a jury but many cases decided by a judge
Right to an Attorney Defendant is entitled to an attorney, which is provided by the state if he cannot afford one Defendant must pay for his own attorney or defend himself
Protection Defendant may choose not to testify; state may not use evidence obtained by illegal search or seizure Defendant can be compelled to testify, other protections may not apply