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Common Questions

What is the difference between criminal law and civil law?

Civil law suits are private suits between two or more citizens. Civil law is the area of law by which private individuals resolve their differences with the help of the civil courts.

Criminal law involves a citizen or a business and the state. The rules of the federal government and all individual state governments are codified into statutes. When an individual violates the rules, as listed in the statutes, then the federal government or the state will prosecute the individual. The remedies available in civil courts are generally limited to money damages. The remedies in criminal court may involve a money fine and/or a prison sentence.

Can some activities be both a criminal offense and a civil offense?

Yes. For example, If John punches Bob, John may be guilty of battery in a criminal court and liable to Bob for battery in a civil court.

Is being guilty the same as being liable?

No. Guilt or innocence are terms used only within a criminal proceeding. Liability or non-liability are terms used only within a civil proceeding.

How could a person be found not guilty in his criminal case, yet, liable in his civil case?

The different court systems have different burdens of proof. To be found guilty in a criminal proceeding, the state must show beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime charged. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a difficult burden to meet. In a civil case the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is responsible for any damages. Numerically, a preponderance of the evidence is a showing of a 51% certainty that the defendant is responsible. Beyond a reasonable doubt requires a showing of guilt closer to 100%.

What is DUI (DWI)?

DUI is shorthand for "Driving Under the Influence." A person is guilty of DUI if he or she drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle and is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or any chemical or controlled substance to the extent that his or her mental faculties are impaired or when his or her blood alcohol level (BAC) is above the legal limit for the state.

Do I have to take a blood, breath or urine test if asked to do so by the police?

No, but it may be in your best interests to take the test. Many states will automatically suspend your license for a year if you refuse to take a chemical test. And if your drunk driving case goes to trial, the prosecutor can tell the jury that you wouldn't take the test, which may lead the jury members to conclude that you refused because you were, in fact, drunk or stoned.

Can I fight my DUI arrest?

Yes. You may request a review of the driver's license suspension by the department of motor vehicles within a specified number of days following your arrest. At a formal review, the hearing officer is authorized to administer oaths, examine witnesses and take testimony. If you request an informal review hearing, it shall consist solely of an examination by the department of the written materials submitted by the arresting officer, as well as anything you wish to submit. You generally cannot attend an informal hearing.

Should I get a lawyer?

Defending against a charge of drunk driving is a tricky business. Defenders need to understand scientific and medical concepts, and must be able to question tough witnesses, including scientists and police officers. If you want to fight your drunk driving charge, you're well advised to hire an attorney who specializes in these types of cases.

How long will I lose my license?

This will vary from state to state. However, if you have refused to submit to a chemical or physical test, your license will likely be suspended for a period of one year for a first refusal, or for eighteen months if you have previously refused to submit to such a test. If you have an unlawful BAC, your driving privilege will likely be suspended for six months for a first offense, and one year for a second offense.

What else will happen to me?

Once again, this varies from state to state. But more than likely, you will be given a jail term. Most states require a mandatory one-night stay on the first offense. In addition, most second offenses within five years, results in a mandatory 30 day jail term and a third offense usually results in a sentence of no less than ninety days. Furthermore, your insurance company may discontinue its coverage or at the very least, assign you to a high-risk category, resulting in a substantial increase in your premiums.