How does a civil case differ from a criminal case?
A criminal case in Maine generally involves a witness or victim reporting the offense to a law enforcement officer – or a law enforcement officer stopping an individual.
The State will then decide whether to file criminal charges against the accused, based on a multitude of factors, including whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, to maintain order in society, provide justice for the victim, protect the public, and to deter other potential offenders.
For a case to proceed, a prosecutor or a Grand Jury must approve the charges.
The criminal case will be known as “State of Maine v. Defendant” and, if the prosecution proves guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, a jail or prison sentence may be handed down by the judge.
The freedom of the accused is at stake, so the burden of proof is necessarily high. A civil case is very different. It can be brought by one or more individuals to resolve a dispute, such as a divorce, breach of contract or landlord-tenant disputes. There is no risk of jail in such cases.
The person who initiates the lawsuit is known as the “plaintiff” and in order to win the civil case, it must be demonstrated by “a preponderance of the evidence” that he or she is in the right.
The burden of proof is, therefore, lower in a civil case than a criminal case, where “beyond a reasonable doubt” is used.