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Civil Cases And Criminal Cases: Understanding Where They Meet And Where They Don't

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A typical civil case commences when an individual sues another individual for money. Maybe it's over a business deal gone bad or injuries sustained in a car accident. Maybe your brother never paid you back for those Dolphins' tickets. Whatever the reason - in our legal system, a person can file a complaint in court and ask that court to order the other party (fancy word for person in a lawsuit) to pay you money you claim is owed to you. Also in our legal system, anybody can sue anyone else for just about any reason. Whether the dispute is over $200 or $200 million - doesn't matter. What's important to know is that lawsuits - civil cases - are between individuals.

A criminal case commences when you are arrested by a law enforcement agency and the attorney who represents the government - in Florida, we call them Assistant State Attorneys - files a criminal charge, or charges, against you. The penalties in criminal cases are much more severe than in civil cases. In a criminal prosecution, the State may be seeking to have you put in jail or prison. In other words, your state government is seeking to deprive you of your freedom.

Civil cases and criminal cases can and often do intersect. Let's say you are charged criminally with DUI causing property damage or injury, and at the same time, the driver who was in the accident with you is suing you for damages.

Let's say the civil case settles before the criminal case is resolved. Maybe you agree to pay the other driver a sum of money, and as a result the civil case is dismissed. Does this have any impact on your pending DUI charges?


Even though the other driver may be compensated for their property damage, bodily injury, and pain and suffering, they are not the party bringing forth the criminal action against you. That would be the State of Florida. The driver is just a state witness. The civil case getting dismissed will not result in the criminal case being dismissed.

How do the civil case and criminal case intersect?

Restitution, which can be imposed in the criminal case, will be offset by any amount they have or will recover in the civil case.

But just because the civil case is dismissed does not mean your criminal case will be dismissed. All too often, people think that what happens in a civil case will change the circumstances of a criminal case.

Always remember that the two cases are mutually exclusive, and while issues like restitution may be impacted by what happens with a civil case; a criminal case is always initiated by the State, not individuals.