Case Law-Types of Cases

It is important to make a clear distinction in your mind between criminal cases and civil cases. A criminal case is, in essence, a lawsuit brought by the government acting through a prosecutor against an individual who is accused of violating a criminal statute. For instance, if you deface a federal building, you may be charged with a federal crime in a federal courthouse. Or if you punch your next door neighbor in the nose on private property, you most likely would be charged with a violation of a state criminal statute. It would be tried in state court before a state court judge, and you would have the right to have a jury present, with that jury being drawn from the cities, counties, or towns where that court had jurisdiction.

A civil case, on the other hand, does not involve any criminal penalty. A civil case involves a claim for monetary relief or a claim for equitable relief. For instance, if you are injured in an automobile accident, you may have a right to sue that other party for monetary damages seeking compensation for your medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering. In a claim seeking equitable relief, you are asking the court to order the other party to either do or not do something. For example, you may sue your next door neighbors to enjoin, or prevent, them from extending their home onto your private property. In that case, you are not asking for money damages but for an order to enjoin your neighbors from constructing their home on your private property. There are a wide variety of civil cases that may be instituted.

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