Definition of criminal procedure
criminal procedure (plural criminal procedures)
- (law) The legal process for adjudicating claims that someone has violated criminal law.
Criminal procedure refers to the legal process for adjudicating claims that someone has violated criminal law.
Currently, in many countries with a democratic system and the rule of law, criminal procedure puts the burden of proof on the prosecution - that is, it is up to the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, as opposed to having the defense prove that s/he is innocent, and any doubt is resolved in favor of the defendant. This provision, known as the presumption of innocence, is required, for example, in the 46 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and it is included in other human rights documents. However, in practice it operates somewhat differently in different countries.
Similarly, all such jurisdictions allow the defendant the right to legal counsel and provide any defendant who cannot afford their own lawyer with a lawyer paid for at the public expense (which is in some countries called a "court-appointed lawyer"). Again, the efficiency of this system depends greatly on the jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, the lawyers provided to indigent defendants are often overworked or less competent, or may not take much interest in the cases they have to defend.
Difference in criminal and civil procedures
Most countries make a rather clear distinction between civil and criminal procedures. For example, an English criminal court may force a defendant to pay a fine as punishment for his crime, and he may sometimes have to pay the legal costs of the prosecution. But the victim of the crime pursues his claim for compensation in a civil, not a criminal, action. In France, Italy, and many countries besides, the victim of a crime (known as the "injured party") may be awarded damages by a criminal court judge.
The standards of proof are higher in a criminal action than in a civil one since the loser risks not only financial penalties but also being sent to prison (or, in some countries, executed). In English law the prosecution must prove the guilt of a criminal "beyond reasonable doubt"; but the plaintiff in a civil action is required to prove his case "on the balance of probabilities". "Beyond reasonable doubt" is not defined for the jury which decides the verdict, but it has been said by appeal courts that proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt requires the prosecution to exclude any reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence: Plomp v. R. In a civil case, however, the court simply weighs the evidence and decides what is most probable.
Criminal and civil procedure are different. Although some systems, including the English, allow a private citizen to bring a criminal prosecution against another citizen, criminal actions are nearly always started by the state. Civil actions, on the other hand, are usually started by individuals.
In Anglo-American law, the party bringing a criminal action (that is, in most cases, the state) is called the prosecution, but the party bringing a civil action is the plaintiff. In both kinds of action the other party is known as the defendant. A criminal case against a person called Ms. Sanchez would be described as "The People vs. (=versus, or against) Sanchez" in the United States and "R. (Regina, that is, the Queen) vs. Sanchez" in England. But a civil action between Ms. Sanchez and a Mr. Smith would be "Sanchez vs. Smith" if started by Sanchez, and "Smith vs. Sanchez" if started by Mr. Smith.
Evidence given at a criminal trial is not necessarily admissible in a civil action about the same matter, just as evidence given in a civil cause is not necessarily admissible on a criminal trial. For example, the victim of a road accident does not directly benefit if the driver who injured him is found guilty of the crime of careless driving. He still has to prove his case in a civil action. In fact he may be able to prove his civil case even when the driver is found not guilty in the criminal trial. If the accused has given evidence on his trial he may be cross-examined on those statements in a subsequent civil action regardless of the criminal verdict.
Once the plaintiff has shown that the defendant is liable, the main argument in a civil court is about the amount of money, or damages, which the defendant should pay to the plaintiff.
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