AbstractThe average person has more familiarity with the procedures of criminal law than with those of civil law, as highly publicized criminal cases are what are most commonly encountered. As such, it is important to have an understanding of the major differences between the two and not confuse one with the other. Both have important applications and implications in the world of medicine.

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Criminal vs. Civil Law as it Pertains to Medicine

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Criminal Law deals specifically with violations of the laws and is prosecuted by the state, as opposed to civil law, in which one party brings grievances against another party or the state. One of the major differences between civil and criminal cases is the rights of the defendant. In criminal cases, the defendant has many rights to ensure that he is not unjustly convicted and sentanced1. Many rights, such as Due Process and the Double Jeopardy (Fifth Amendment) rule are found in the Bill of Rights. The rights of a criminal defendant include right to a trail by jury, and the assumption that he is innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution. In the majority of civil cases, although burden of proof still lies upon the plaintiff, the standard of guilt is much looser. For a civil defendant to be considered guilty, the standard is the “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning essentially that it must appear more likely than not that the defendant is guilty1.

Thus, a defendant in a criminal case might be found not guilty, but be found guilty in a civil prosecution for the same allegation and be compelled to pay the plaintiff. This in particular is important to medical cases, such as malpractice suits, wherein a doctor might be found not guilty in a criminal case, but may have liability in a civil suit2. As such, it is important in the medical industry to have insurance against such situations. Due to cultural shifts in the view of doctors and medical professionals, the likelihood of these suits has increased in recent years. In the past, medical professionals were highly esteemed and practically infallible2. Today, however, with the vast information available to patients through the internet and the increasing role of nurses in the medical profession, doctors are more commonly being called into question.

  • Silver, J. (2008). The Crime Junkie’s Guide to Criminal Law: From Law and Order