Comparing Criminal Law & Civil Law

Whether it is a criminal case or a civil case, it is important to have a basic understanding of what to expect moving forward, as well as the procedures of solving the dispute of either case. If you are involved in a legal dispute — whether it is criminal or civil — one of the first things you can do is meet with an attorney.

An attorney will typically help you make sense of local court rules and advise you on how to proceed with your case. Then you would usually hire a lawyer to represent you. If you are unable to afford a lawyer, you could either obtain a pro bono lawyer or apply for legal representation at a Legal Aid Service organization. In a criminal court, however, usually a lawyer is assigned to you if you cannot afford to hire one.

Issues Addressed by Criminal Courts

Criminal courts typically handle cases that involve serious traffic offenses (ie. car accidents that involve serious injury or death), misdemeanors, and felonies. There are many different stages to a criminal cases depending on the criminal offense.

These stages can include arraignment, plea bargaining, preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, discovery phase, criminal trial, sentencing, and appeals. It is important to note that legal components of crimes as well as sentencing/punishment can vary depending on place. For example, some states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana while others have not.

If you have been charged with a crime, you could remain in jail for up to 24 hours before you can receive a first appearance hearing. A judge who handles criminal matters will hear your case, and will inform you of your right to have a lawyer at the first appearance. If you cannot hire a lawyer, the judge will also inform you of the fact that a lawyer will be appointed to you.

Issues Addressed by Civil Courts

Civil courts handle cases that are typically less intense than those handled in criminal courts, such as disputes over liability, landlord-tenant issues, small claims, estate planning matters, probate, contract disputes, employment discrimination, and others. Personal injury cases that involve insurance companies and injured victims are very common in civil courts. The injured victim usually assert their right to compensation due to liability of another party

In a civil case, there is no constitutional right to have a lawyer. Thus, unlike in criminal cases, a lawyer will not be assigned to you if you are not able to afford one. Instead, you could receive help from a legal aid organization.

Pro Bono Lawyers Available for Criminal and Civil Issues

In a criminal case, those who cannot afford a representative will typically have a lawyer appointed to them. Some states in the U.S. maintain public interest firms that provides low-cost criminal legal services for individuals. These firms provide those who are low-income a chance to choose the lawyer they want to work with on their cases.

Because there are no constitutional rights to have a lawyer in a civil issue, those who cannot afford a lawyer will usually contact a Legal Aid Service organization or Legal Aid Society organizations for legal service. However, one must first make sure a lawyer is available for their needs. Pro bono lawyers — those who volunteer their service for virtually no cost — may also be available to represent the case.

Affordability of Legal Aid Services for Criminal and Civil Cases

For civil cases, a legal aid service organization will provide legal aid to an individual at no cost if you qualify for free legal services at your current income level. To apply for a lawyer at the legal aid service organization , you will need to fill out an application for services.

For criminal cases, low-income clients will need to pay for the work of a public defender to the extend they are able to. An income scale is used to determine the pay rate for a defendant.

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