The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases in Arizona

Civil cases and criminal cases have differences.

The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases in Arizona

Generally, legal cases can take two forms: either a civil case or a criminal case. Both incorporate a defendant and a plaintiff, and both can ultimately end in trial before a jury. Beyond this, these types of cases are quite different.

Criminal Cases

A criminal case occurs when an individual violates criminal law, which is considered an offense to the community. In these cases, the plaintiff is the government (the “State of Arizona”) and only they can press charges. Crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or, for serious offenses, felonies. Penalties become more severe depending on the gravity of the charges.

Criminal cases have high standards regarding burden of proof. A defendant cannot be convicted if the evidence against them was not proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is where “innocent until proven guilty” comes into play. Juries must be unanimous in their decisions.

Generally, criminal cases follow the same pattern. After the defendant is arrested subsequent to allegedly committing a crime, a preliminary hearing is held in the court to determine if the case should go to trial. If trial leads to a conviction, then the court will hold a judgement and sentencing hearing. A conviction can be appealed by a defendant.

A convicted individual can face a range of penalties, from fines and jail to imprisonment and probation.

Criminal cases can include DUI, murder, assault, criminal damage, rape, and shoplifting.

Civil Cases

Civil cases encompass every other type of legal case besides criminal and are generally private actions between two parties.

Rather than be required to prove evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the plaintiff must only prove that their evidence proves their case more than fifty percent.

In a civil case, once a dispute arises, a complaint must be filed and the defendant will likely be required to file a response to that complaint. After each party has gathered the necessary evidence, a pretrial conference takes place to discuss a settlement. If the case is not settled, then it goes to trial for a verdict, which has the option of being appealed.

Civil law often concludes with restitution or financial redress rather than the punishments that are seen in criminal cases.

Civil law cases can include divorce, breach of contracts, small claims, property damage, personal injury, and probate.

Can You Have Both Types of Law in the Same Case?

Interestingly, you can. It is possible to commit a wrongdoing that straddles both types of law. For example, a DUI will lead to criminal charges for the drunk driving, but could also lead to a personal injury or wrongful death civil suit if the accident caused injury or death to the victim involved.


With offices in Lake Havasu City and Scottsdale, our firm serves the entire state of Arizona, with a particular focus on criminal defense, family law, and juvenile cases.

Our goal is for the best outcome for your criminal case, which can include:

  • charges that are reduced or dropped.
  • top experts reviewing your case.
  • aggressive negotiations with the prosecution for plea bargains.
  • fines or probation in lieu of jail time.

At Rideout Law Group, our attorneys are able to expertly examine the evidence in your case to provide a strong strategy for argument that leads to an outcome that is most favorable to you. We have experience in all types of criminal cases for both adults and juveniles, with positive outcomes both in plea negotiations as well as jury trial settings.

Call us today for a free consultation at 480-584-3328.



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