This table summarizes some of the basic differences between crimes and torts, or between criminal law and tort law. We'll elaborate on most of these differences in class.
Crimes Torts immediate purpose punishment of criminal compensation of victim balance of defendant's wrong and victim's injury emphasis on df's moral wrong, not victim's injury emphasis on victim's injury, not df's moral wrong theory of offense offense to all society; public interest only victim injured; private interest only initiating party the state, "the people", represented by prosecutor the victim, plaintiff verb/noun try/trial, or prosecute/prosecution sue/suit defendant's right to a jury trial yes (6th Amendment) only sometimes (7th Amendment) defendant's right to counsel yes no deadline on action statute of limitations laches; equitable estoppel; sometimes a statute of limitations category of responsibility guilt liability standard of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" "by a preponderance of the evidence" judge may direct a verdict of guilty no yes fate of convicted defendant suffers punishment (fine, imprisonment, death) pays compensatory damages, sometimes punitive damages; sometimes is enjoined fate of victim ignored compensated permissible appeals by defendant only (state barred by double jeopardy) by defendant or plaintiff defendant's testimony may not be compelled (privilege against self-incrimination) may be compelled affirmative defenses excuse, justification immunity, consent, privilege (and others) effect of victim consent, forgiveness, condonation consent rarely a defense consent always a defense general domain of law criminal civil form of law statute (mostly) case law, common law (mostly) primary lawmaker legislature court accountability of lawmaker elected usually appointed, sometimes for life role of precedent only for interpreting statute for substance availability, prior notice, promulgation of law always written; clarity and prior notice important unwritten except as cases after the fact retroactivity of law no ex post facto; usually no "common law crimes" may be ex post facto
This list of differences should not obscure the similarities between criminal law and tort law. For example, both kinds of law:
- must be consistent with the state and federal constitutions
- are applied and interpreted by courts
- use juries for questions of fact
- have similar appeal routes for convicted defendants
- have procedural and substantive dimensions
- may apply to the very same act (both kinds of legal action may proceed simultaneously)
- may use the same legal concepts (battery is both a crime and tort; punitive damages resemble criminal fines; contempt of court can be criminal or civil).