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Civil law is the branch of law that involving crimes committed by people against each other and not against the public. Civil law deals with the disputes arising between individuals and/or organizations where compensation may at times be awarded to the victim. Examples of cases involving civil law include divorce proceedings, proceedings in child custody, disputes between landlord and tenants and property related disputes. Criminal law is the branch of law that deals with crimes committed against the public. It is also known as the penal law and has been defined as the body of the statutory and common law dealing with crime and legal punishment of criminal offenses. Examples of criminal cases include assault, theft, robbery, trafficking in illegal and controlled substances, larceny, kidnapping and murder (Elias, 2003).
Fundamental differences exist between these two. The cases in a civil law are filed by a private party which can be an individual or an organization while the criminal cases are filed by the government authority against an individual, organization or groups of individuals. The defendant in a civil litigation does not face incarceration or execution as a form of punishment but may be ordered to reimburse the plaintiff for the losses caused by his/her behavior. Either party between the plaintiff and defendant can be found at fault. However in the criminal litigation the defendant may be punished by incarceration in jail or the death penalty in unusual cases (Elias, 2003). Crimes committed by the defendants are grouped into two broad classes; the misdemeanors (regarded as minor offences) and felonies (regarded as serious offences). The defendant can be found guilty and punished or not and set free. The burden of proof in a civil suit is based on "preponderance of evidence" (Elias, 2003). That is it is based on the influence of evidence which initially begins with the side of the plaintiff and then moves to the defendant. However the burden of proof in criminal cases is solely the duty of the state or government and the judgment is based on evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt". After the court decision only the defendant may appeal against the court ruling and not the prosecution while either party may appeal in a civil suit. Both the criminal and civil litigation cases, especially minor cases are filed at the district Sherriff's courts but the more serious are transferred to the supreme courts.
The civil system of courts that is presently in use in many countries is heavily borrowed from the legal system of England. The civil courts are broken down into different divisions that are categorized by the legal issues involved. Such divisions include juvenile division which hears cases on child neglect and other related issues and the family division which listens to issues on divorce, child support, child custody and other family related issues. The lawsuits in civil courts involve a wide range of areas of disputes (Subrin, 2006). These areas of civil law include but are not limited to civil rights law , constitutional, bankruptcy, tax, military, multimedia, employment, family, health , environmental and property laws.
The function of the civil court is to provide a place where the involved parties can peacefully solve their dispute against each other under the guide of the civil law. The involved parties are the plaintiff (who feels that he or she has been treated unfairly and initiates the case) and defendant (the person who is accused of unfair treatment by the plaintiff) can be individuals, organizations, companies or corporations. The court is presided over by a sitting judge alone without a jury. The civil court works through six basic steps; pre-filing, filing, discovery, pretrial, trial and post trial. This presents the civil law procedure although some states have a few variations on the same.
The pre-filing starts right after the incident and before a formal filing of the court papers. The discovery stage of the court process starts after formal communication with the defendant usually thirty days after filing. The case can be settled at this stage between the two parties without proceeding to the civil court. Pretrial begins ninety days before the court trial. The trial may last one day or more depending on its complexity or simplicity. The post trial period after the case involves collecting the judgment and appealing of the court's decision by either party (The superior court of California, 2011).
In the hearing, plaintiff who filed the case first presents his or her side of the story to the civil court's judge who weighs the provided evidence. The defendant is the given a chance to respond to the allegations. The court hearing proceeds after a "not guilty" answer by the defendant who is then given the chance to present his or her hand in the matter. The burden of proof in a civil court lies with the plaintiff and the allegations made have to be refuted by the defendant with support of evidence. This is based on the principle of "preponderance of evidence", with the court listening to and weighing the evidence produced by both parties before making a ruling based on the evidence. The court decision will be in favor of the one with more than 50 percent of evidence favoring his or her position.
There are many careers within the legal profession and one can opt for private practice or work for the state or government. The term Barrister is mainly borrowed from the British legal system and it refers to a lawyer who is admitted to plead at the superior court bar and in the U.S. legal system they are mainly referred to as trial lawyers. These legal practitioners have expertise on drafting of legal pleadings, courtroom advocacy and providing legal opinions. They engage in advocacy or trial work and argue cases before the superior courts. A fact of note is that barristers usually not permitted to conduct litigation or act on behalf of the client but can only do so on instruction from the solicitors and at times direction from court (Oakley, 2009).
A solicitor is a lawyer permitted by law to act in place of a client and represent the client in a court of law. These lawyers are referred to as attorney within the U.S. legal system and they can conduct litigation on behalf of the client, plead or defend a case on their behalf and many other essential legal purposes. The barrister and solicitors form the two branches of lawyers within the common law. In the United States' common law legal system barristers and solicitors are not clearly distinct from each other and all lawyers are allowed to defend and prosecute in the law courts after admission to the bar.
The jury is a convened body of people sworn to give impartial judgments and verdicts in cases presented to the by the court and/or to fix a penalty. The jury is made up of individuals who are all adult American citizens with permanent residency status and this service they provide is referred to as jury duty. An individual may serve the jury duty a number of times depending on the selection processes as provided for by their county and their state of residence (Subrin, 2006). People called for jury duty are in most cases protected from being disciplined for missing their work and in some cases the employer is required to pay the employee for some of the time spent in jury duty. Some states do pay their jurors which varies with the number of days served and amounts. This is a duty for all American citizens and jury dates are set for individuals by their counties.
The judges are legal practitioners who preside over the courts of law. The judge may either be alone or be a part of a panel of judges. The training, discipline, functions, power and methods used in their appointment do vary from one jurisdiction to another. The judges listen to all witnesses in a case and the presented evidence before issuing rulings and making verdicts based on their interpretation of the law (Oakley, 2009). The powers of a judge are in some jurisdictions shared with the jury. Within the American System, Judges of the national Supreme Court and the supreme courts of counties and states are usually referred to as "justices".
Magistrates are judicial officers with judicial and executive powers. The magistrates maybe judges within the superior court of law under civil law. Within the federal courts, the magistrates are judges who are authorized under title 28 of the United States Code. They are appointed to serve for a given term by the federal district judges of particular courts. The magistrate judge has the legal mandate in conducting a wide range of legal proceedings in both the civil and criminal litigations in the judicial system.