New Jersey residents may be interested in information concerning the differences between criminal and civil cases in the United States. While both generally involve a dispute inside a courtroom, they have very different motives, goals and parties.
Criminal cases are generally classified as an attempt to punish actions that are doing harm against society as a whole. These cases are not brought by private parties against the party accused of the crime but rather the government. The names of the parties are the prosecution, represented by the government, and the defendant, who is the person accused of the crime. There does not need to be a victim, such as in a murder case. It could be a drunk driving trial that did not result in harm to anyone, but the government still believes that punishment for the crime would be appropriate.
On the other hand, civil litigation is instituted by a private party against another party in order to resolve a dispute. Generally, the dispute comes from a failure by one party to fulfill their legal duty to the other. This could be because of a written or implied contract or due to negligence or intentional action on the part of one party. The accusing party is known as the plaintiff, and the accused party is called the defendant. The defendant in a civil case could be a private individual, a corporation or the government.
When a party has been wronged by another, an attorney with experience in civil litigation or appeals may be able to help. The attorney may be able to evaluate the case and examine the evidence before recommending the appropriate legal action. The attorney may then be able to bring the lawsuit in civil court or appeal an adverse judgment to a higher court.
Source: Findlaw, "Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases - Key Differences", November 26, 2014