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  • Brian Foley

Woodlands Criminal Defense Attorney - The difference between civil and criminal law.

Woodlands Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Foley

I sometimes look back on my life before becoming a lawyer and think about my thought about the justice system and the law when I knew about as much as other non-lawyers. One of the most shocking things is that there are two parallel legal systems in the United States. Civil Law and Criminal Law. Civil Lawyers sometimes never go to the courthouse. They almost are never in trial, and they don't really run in the same circles as criminal lawyers. Criminal Lawyers on the other hand are almost always at the courthouse, and are frequently in trial.

Criminal Law is what most people think of when they say you have to "obey the law." In criminal law the State brings a legal charge against a person who has been alleged to have committed a crime in violation of the law. The law in these cases are statutes written in the Penal Code or other codes. For example the prohibition on illegal substances like methamphetamine is found in the Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 481. The crime of "thrashing pecans" is a class B and is found in the government code.

Criminal law is different mainly because it is the only kind of law that can take away someone's freedom and imprison them in a jail or other correctional institution. This makes criminal law and its practice extremely important for those involved. But it can often be ignored until a citizen finds themselves in the crosshairs of the government.

Civil law is everything else. For example Civil law includes, Family law (Divorces and Child Custody), Personal Injury which is in a field of law called "Torts", Property Law, Wills and Trusts, Business or Administrative Law, Admiralty Law, and Bankruptcy. Each of these fields is part of civil law. In a civil case we are typically talking about the exchange of money. The one exception to this is family law cases involving child custody. A civil lawyer can represent you if you are hit by a bus and need to sue to cover medical bills and lost wages. But a civil lawyer can also help you write a contract to help you purchase a new piece of property.

Sometimes a person will be accused of a crime for example, intoxication manslaughter. They could face 2-20 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter. That would be a criminal case. But they could also have their insurance company get sued for wrongful death and be sued for money damages for lost wages and love and companionship lost to the spouse of the person killed. This would be a civil case.

The burdens of proof are also different in a criminal case and a civil case. In a civil case for wrongful death the burden on the party trying to prove that person is negligent or liable is called a preponderance of the evidence. This means just barely over 50% or more likely than not.

Compare this to a criminal case where the burden of proof is always on the State and they must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden. There is no percentage that is allowed to be told. But difficult to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sec. 3101.010.  THRASHING PECANS;  PENALTY.  (a)  A person commits an offense if the person causes pecans to fall from a pecan tree by any means, including by thrashing, unless the tree is located on:
(1)  land owned by the person causing the pecans to fall;
(2)  privately owned land, and the person causing the pecans to fall has the written consent of the owner, lessee, or authorized agent of the owner or lessee;
(3)  land owned by the state or a political subdivision of the state and in the boundaries of a municipality, and the person causing the pecans to fall has written consent from an officer or agent of the agency or political subdivision controlling the land or from the mayor of the municipality;  or
(4)  land owned by the state or a political subdivision of the state and outside the boundaries of a municipality, and the person causing the pecans to fall has written consent from an officer or agent of the agency or political subdivision controlling the property or from the county judge of the county.
(b)  An offense under this section is a misdemeanor and on conviction is punishable by:
(1)  a fine of not less than $5 or more than $300;
(2)  confinement in the county jail for a term not to exceed three months;  or
(3)  both a fine and confinement.


For litigants who do not have counsel: Reading this blog post does not create an attorney client relationship. Call to set up a free consultation.

For the general public: This Blog/Web Site is for educational purposes only and it provides general information and a general understanding of the law, but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship created. Don't just read this as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney.

For attorneys: This Blog is informational and educational in nature and is not a substitute for Westlaw or other research and consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. As you know the law can change day to day based on recent case opinions. And unfortunately you shouldn't cite it in court as binding authority because it is not. Mention it to your friends, just seek real consultation if its something important.

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