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Differences in Civil and Criminal Courts

The decisions reached by the judicial branch of the United States have profound effects on every person in the United States. Decisions from the higher courts dictate how we live our everyday lives, and decisions in the lower courts determine how crimes are prosecuted and how civil disagreements are resolved.

A court can either be designated as a criminal court or a civil court. Criminal courts exist to prosecute those who have committed crimes. Those tried in criminal courts include those charged with robbery, assault, murder, arson, embezzlement, and other crimes. The person accused of the crime is the defendant, and the prosecutor is a representative of the government, since in criminal cases, the government is suing the accused on the behalf of the public.

Civil courts deal with cases involving the private relationships between people or between an individual and an organization. Civil cases also deal with offenses and actions that are not considered crimes by law. Examples of civil crimes include employees suing an employer for discrimination, landlords suing renters for money owed, and divorce and domestic cases.

Some offenses and harmful actions, such as domestic violence or child abuse, are handled in civil court rather than criminal court, since these cases involve the private relationships between individuals. In civil cases, the government is not involved unless the defendant is sued by a private individual or organization.

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