In criminal law, the elements of an offense are set forth by statute. These elements include an act (actus reus), a mental state (mens rea), and causation. Each element has a burden of proof, and the burden is on the government to establish each element. Crimes are usually broken down into four categories. Felony crimes carry the highest punishment, namely, a year or more in prison.
A criminal case is formally initiated by the government, in conjunction with law enforcement. Prosecutors weigh the evidence and circumstances to determine whether to charge someone with a crime. They have the discretion to determine the level of punishment that is appropriate, but they must have sufficient evidence to justify a conviction. This is why criminal cases are so serious and require a thorough investigation before a case can be filed. An individual who is convicted of a crime should expect a lengthy trial.
Criminal law and civil law are very different. While civil law seeks to correct an unfair situation for the victim, criminal law aims to punish the offender. It also seeks to build a stable society. However, these two types of law can overlap. The main difference between civil and criminal law is that the former is about societal wrongdoings while the latter is about rights and private property. While a civil case may require a courtroom hearing, civil cases are often settled outside the courtroom through third-party mediation.
The distinction between civil and criminal law is vital to understanding the differences between the two fields. Civil law deals with civil rights while criminal law focuses on violations against the government. The same rule applies to the civil law, but the specific conduct involved is different. For example, a case of treason is a civil law offense, but the law of the land governs criminal offenses against private property. It is also the law of the state.