Crimes and Civil Wrongs: What's the Difference?

There are several reasons that a crime differs from a civil wrong. However, the biggest reason in which crimes and civil wrongs differ is because of the decision of the legislative body to separate the acts into two different categories (Chamelin, 2003). A crime is considered a "public wrong" while a civil wrong is "a private suit between individuals" (Chamelin, 2003, pp. 3, 8). A civil wrong is filed by the damaged, or wronged, individual and not by the government. A crime, however, is "prosecuted by the state in its own name"; criminal charges cannot be filed by an individual (Chamelin, 2003. p. 3).

Crimes are punishable by imprisonment, fines or capital punishment (Chamelin, 2003). Civil wrongs, however, are usually resolved through awarding monetary damages to the wronged individual (Chamelin, 2003). In addition, there is no set limit on the amount one found guilty of a civil wrong can be made to pay (Chamelin, 2003). The punishment for crimes, however, has already been set down in rule and punishment is generally decided by the type of crime that was committed, the seriousness of the offense and, in some instances, the history of the offender.

If an individual had borrowed someone's car and the car was wrecked while it was in his or her possession, the owner of the car could file a civil suit. If, however, the individual had stolen the car in question, the government could file criminal charges against said individual. It is also possible for both types of wrongs to be committed. If, for instance, the car was stolen and then wrecked by the thief, the government could file criminal charges for the theft of the car. The owner, or wronged individual, of the stolen and wrecked car could also file civil charges against the individual. Since both types of wrongful acts occurred the government can prosecute and the injured party can proceed in a civil filing since criminal and civil wrongs are two separate types of acts. The outcome of one type of proceeding generally can not be taken into consideration during the other proceeding (Chamelin, 2003).

The trials of OJ Simpson are a classic, albeit infamous, example of both types of proceedings taking place. The government proceeded with criminal murder charges against OJ Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, while the families of the victims filed a civil suit for the wrongful death of the two. The fact that OJ Simpson was acquitted of the murders could not be taken into consideration during the civil proceedings, however, had OJ been convicted of the murder, his conviction could have been taken into consideration by the judge or jury during the civil case (Chamelin, 2003).

Civil and criminal wrongs differ for many reasons. A civil wrong is a private suit between individuals while a criminal wrong is a public matter. Civil wrongs do not include the government, but criminal charges do. It is possible to file both criminal and civil charges at the same time, and the outcome of one proceeding generally may not be taken into consideration in the other proceeding.

Chamelin, N. C. (2003). Criminal law for police officers (Special Edition. pp. 3-4, 116-117, 128, 143-144 ). United States: Pearson Prentice Hall.