What is the Difference Between a Civil Case and a Criminal Case?-15 Things Oregon Crime Victims Should Know

As a former prosecutor I rejected or "no complainted" various criminal cases.   Many of these cases lacked evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect had committed a a crime.   Sometimes these were big cases that involved sexual assault, rape, assault, battery, or wrongful death caused by a negligent or DUII driver.   Those cases were always difficult to reject, because there was a victim that had been harmed, but there just wasn't enough evidence to support pursuing a conviction.   That meant that the wrongdoer would never be punished for the harm that they caused.  However, many of those cases would have been great Civil Cases.  That means the injured person or their estate could have received compensation (money) for the harms that the wrongdoer inflicted, even if the wrongdoer was never charged with a crime. 


Civil cases are much different than criminal cases. It is very important for a person that has been the victim of a crime to understand the difference between the two, so they can know all of their legal rights. Below are some of the main differences between Civil Law and Criminal Law in Oregon: 

  1. What is The Main Difference Between a Civil Case and a Criminal Case In Oregon? Civil cases are about holding the wrongdoer(s) accountable by compensating the victim.  Basically the wrongdoer(s) are ordered to pay the victim for the harms and losses they caused the victim.  In Criminal Cases the case is about holding the wrongdoer accountable by punishing the wrongdoer.  Basically the wrongdoer goes to jail, is on probation, or is put in prison.  In a Civil Case the focus is on the harms and losses the wrongdoer caused the victim.  In a Criminal Case the focus is on the acts the defendant committed that violated the law. 
  2. Is There A Civil Case If The Person Is Being Charged With A Crime?  In a civil case an injured person files a lawsuit against the person(s) or entities (government organizations or corporations) that caused the harm.  Being charged with a crime does not trigger a civil lawsuit.   In a Criminal Case the DA files documents to attempt to convict the wrong doer of a crime.  That does not trigger a civil lawsuit.  To Trigger a Civil lawsuit a person, usually a civil lawyer, files a complaint on behalf of the victim who is called the Plaintiff.
  3. Is The DA My Lawyer If I Was A Crime Victim?  In a Civil Case the injured person has their own lawyer that represents only the injured person(s).  In a criminal case the State of Oregon has a "prosecutor" (sometimes called a DA) that represents the State.  The Prosecutor may take the victim's wishes into account regarding plea bargains and other issues, but at the end of the day the Prosecutor does not represent the victim.  In a civil case the civil lawyer only looks out for the crime victim's interest.
  4. Who Is the Victim's Advocate in a Criminal Case?  In Oregon the Victim's Witness Advocate is an employee of the District Attorney's office.  They do a great job of attempting to keep victims informed of what is going on in the Criminal Case, and trying to create a dialogue between the victim and the prosecutor handling the case.  Victim Witness Advocates often will advise victims of criminal court dates (bail hearings, trial dates, sentencing dates), and will often inform the victim of their rights in the criminal proceedings.  However, this does not always happen with every case.  
  5. Do I Get A Victim's Advocate in a Civil Case?  Yes.  In a civil case your lawyer is your advocate.   There is not an employee of the government that will advocate on your behalf.  You will have a lawyer that is pursuing your case for you and asserting your rights. 
  6. Can I Get A Civil Lawyer To Be My Victim's Advocate In A Criminal Case?  Yes, as the victim of a crime you have a right to have a civil lawyer as your representative.   This is strongly encouraged to ensure the victim's rights are honored.   However, 
  7. The DA "No Complainted" My Case, Will A Civil Lawyer Take The Case?  It depends, it maybe that there is not enough evidence to hold the wrong doer(s) accountable in a civil case.  It may also be that none of the wrongdoers has any money, so it would not be worth pursuing a lawsuit because at the end of the day no one would receive any compensation.  It is best to call a lawyer like myself at 503.224.1658 to discuss your civil case.
  8. The DA Said There Wasn't Enough Evidence To Prove My Criminal Case, So How Would We Win a Civil Case?  One of the main differences between a civil case and a criminal case is the burden of proof.  In a criminal case the state must prove the wrongdoer committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  That is the highest standard of proof.  In a civil case the standard is typically much lower.   To win your civil case you only have to prove your allegations by a preponderance of the evidence.   What this means is that you only have to show that more likely than not a person or entity caused your harm.  This is much easier, and you don't need the same amount of evidence to prove the case. 
  9. Can I Collect Money From The Criminal Defendant To Compensate Me For My Harm?  It Depends.  First, most DA's will only pursue out of pocket losses (think property damage, hospital bills, therapy bills) once their is a conviction.  What this means is that a crime victim typically cannot receive money for the hell the event has caused them (think: pain, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, humiliation, and interference with daily activities).  In a civil case you can be awarded money for all the hell the person put you through.   In limited circumstances the DA may be able to get an award of a "compensatory fine" that allows the victim to collect money for non-out of pocket losses.  However this is rarely done.  You should speak to a Civil Crime Victim's lawyer, such as myself, if you are interested in pursuing this.  Call 503.224.1658.
  10. Can I Have A Civil Case While the DA Is Prosecuting the Criminal Case, Or Do I have to Wait?   A crime victim in Oregon can have a civil case and a criminal case in the court at the same time.  However, that doesn't mean the cases will be on the same track.  Lawyers would be different, dates and hearings would be different, and judges may be different in the civil and criminal case.   There are numerous strategies that people consider regarding when to file a civil case, so you should consult with a Civil Crime Victim's lawyer. 
  11. Can A Civil Lawyer Get a Settlement With the Person Being Charged with a Crime Before Filing a Lawsuit?  Yes!  It is often very helpful to have a civil lawyer  representing the crime victim, so the Civil Lawyer can attempt to resolve the case before filing a Civil Lawsuit.  Sometimes this can occur while the DA is still prosecuting the wrongdoer in the criminal case.  
  12. I Believe A Corporation or Government Entity Caused Some of My Harm, Can I File A Civil Lawsuit Against Them Even if an Actual Person Committed the Crime?  Yes, if the evidence merits it.  This happens all of the time.   As a Civil Crime Victim's Lawyer I have filed a lawsuit against multiple corporations and a rapist in the same lawsuit.   We sued the corporations because they negligently hired the rapist and my client was raped while he was on the clock.   This scenario can come up with teachers sexually assaulting or molesting children, DHS failing to protect children, Hospitals allowing physicians to work after receiving complaints the physician had sexually assaulted a person, a bar that hired a bouncer that beat a person senseless, and a bar or social host that over-served a DUII Driver that caused a crash.   These are just a few of the countless examples.  
  13.  Can I File A Civil Lawsuit After The Wrongdoer Is Convicted of A Crime?  Yes!  In fact most of the time that is when most civil lawsuits are filed against the wrong doer.  Just because a person is convicted doesn't mean you can't still pursue a civil lawsuit against them to seek money to compensate you for the hell they put you through. 
  14. The DA Said The Statute Of Limitations  Ran on The Case, Can I Still File A Civil Lawsuit?  It depends.  Sometimes the criminal statute of limitations for a misdemeanor in Oregon may be as short as a year.  Most Civil Personal Injury lawsuits must be filed in two years.   Therefore a Civil Lawyer may have an extra year to hold the wrong doer accountable.  Other statute of limitations involving sexual assault, molestation, sexual abuse are very complicated and a Civil Lawyer should be consulted with.
  15. If I Receive Money From The Oregon Crime Victim's Compensation Fund Can I File a Civil Case Against the Defendant(s)?  Yes.  Oregon has a fund that will pay medical bills and therapy bills for crime victims in some circumstances.  If a person receives benefits from the Crime Victim's Compensation Fund, and later collects money from the defendant in a civil lawsuit or settlement then the Fund must be repaid. 

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime and want to file a civil lawsuit call Oregon Crime Victim Lawyer Jeremiah Ross at 503.224.1658 for your free consultation.  Ross Law LLC is happy to assist crime victim.    Please note there are numerous differences between civil law and criminal law, and the law is constantly changing.