Crimes v. Torts
Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College

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 file is an electronic hand-out for the course, Crimes & Torts.

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A. Copyright © 1998-2003, Peter Suber.