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The Key Differences Between Criminal and Civil Law: An Intro for Those in Police Foundations Programs

September 12, 2018

police foundations program

Between 2016 and 2017, the Crime Severity Index (CSI) in Canada reported over 1.9 million police-reported criminal code incidents. For police officers working on the frontlines of law enforcement, having a keen understanding of criminal law is essential. In addition, under certain circumstances they may be called upon as a witness during civil cases. Developing an in-depth understanding of both is therefore an essential part of training for this career path.

Here is a quick guide to some of the differences between civil and criminal litigation for students interested in beginning a career in law enforcement.

An Overview of Criminal Law for Students in Police Foundations Training

In Canada, once a Crown prosecutor decides to bring charges against someone who has allegedly committed a criminal offence, this person then becomes the defendant, and their case is brought to trial. The prosecutor represents the community at large and acts as a public employee who is provided to the victim by the Crown counsel’s budget.

Criminal law involves a Crown-appointed prosecutor and a high burden of proof

Criminal law involves a Crown-appointed prosecutor and a high burden of proof

Additionally, during trial the defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the judge or jury must be convinced that there is a high probability that the accused in fact committed the crime. As students in a police foundations program know, criminal law addresses offences which were committed with intentional harm against an individual and the community at large. For instance, a home invasion is considered a criminal offence because although it involves property, it violates the privacy and safety of the home’s occupants as well as the community’s notion of the home as a safe space. In order for a defendant to be convicted of a crime, it must be proven based upon the evidence presented that it was committed intentionally. It is important to remember that in Canada, the defendant should be considered innocent until a guilty verdict has been determined.

A Quick Overview of Civil Law

Civil law, in contrast to criminal litigation, concerns a dispute between private parties. In addition, the defendant may be held responsible for damages or injury which occurs as a result of their negligence. A majority of civil law presented to the court includes family law, which involves divorce, child custody, as well as spousal and child support. Allegations of medical malpractice, distribution of estate, and employment complaints are also covered in civil court. Students in police foundations training should be aware that they can be called a witness in a civil trial if they serve a subpoena to anyone involved or acted within the dispute in a law enforcement capacity.

If a case is found to have merit, the court may order the losing party to pay for sufficient damages, which usually involves financial compensation. Other means of resolving a civil case, known as a remedy, are through a declaration which states the rights of the parties, and an injunction, which is a restraining order that states a party has or does not have the ability to take a certain action.

What Are the Main Differences?

Generally, the main difference between civil law and criminal law is that to find the accused at fault, more evidence is required in criminal cases than civil ones. To prove that a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution must also demonstrate that the act was committed with intent. Civil cases, however, must be proven on what’s known as a balance of probabilities, which indicates if it is more probable than not that the defendant can be held liable for causing harm or loss to the plaintiff. There is a lower standard of proof involved because a civil trial does not use incarceration or jail time as punishment, but instead settles disputes financially.

Standards of liability and punishment differ between criminal and civil court

Standards of liability and punishment differ between criminal and civil court

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