Interviewer: What are the differences between criminal and civil law?
A Criminal Charge Can Result in Incarceration; in Civil Law the Penalties Do Not Entail Incarceration
Paul Tafelski: The simplest way to explain the differences of criminal law is a criminal charge is anything where you could conceivably or technically go to jail. That’s something where you violate a state or local, a state statute or a local ordinance which is punishable by jail.
Within civil law, jail is not a possibility. For example, a speeding ticket is a civil infraction. You cannot go to jail for a speeding ticket whereas reckless driving recklessly is a criminal misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to 93 days in jail. It doesn’t mean you are going to go to jail but you could go to jail for reckless driving, for example.
In civil law you will never go to jail unless you are found in contempt of court for failing to obey court orders.