how can you tell if a court case is criminal or civil?

for example if the case was P v Smith. i know when you use "people" in the title then i know it has to be one or the other, i just dont know which. or what if its Smith v. Johnson?

5 Answers

  • 9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    In a criminal case the government is ALWAYS a party. Crimes by definition are violations of law meant to protect society from harm, and are punished by the government. So Smith v. Johnson could never be the case caption for a criminal case, unless there is some city, state or government body called "Smith" or "Johnson." It is entirely possible that Johnson had broken a criminal law and had an earlier case, and it is also entirely possible that the government never prosecuted Johnson for some violation of law, but Smith decided to bring a tort action against him, but unless it says, "US v. Johnson" or "California v. Johnson" or "City of Los Angeles v. Johnson" etc. etc., it cannot be a criminal case.

    There are also government agencies as well that may handle matters that could also be criminal and have punishments of fines or revocations of licenses, etc, i.e. the IRS, the SEC, etc. But if it involves a punishment of prison time (specifically a felony), it has to go to an Article III court, because we have the right to a full jury trial when we are charged with a serious felony crime.

    EDIT: And yes, to clarify and concur with the first poster, although you will NEVER see a criminal matter without a government named as one of the parties, governments can also sue civilly. So it is easy to tell if a particular case is NOT criminal, but it's harder to tell "IF" the government is in fact named, if the claim is a civil or criminal government action. But usually the case number will start with a "CR" or a "CL" or something to indicate whether it is criminal or civil. And of course there are also other types of captions for agency matters as well. For example when the IRS goes after someone for back taxes, is usually "Commissioner of IRS v. Johnson" but if the state wants to prosecute Mr. Johnson for criminal tax evasion, it would be "US v. Johnson." Hope that makes sense.

  • 4 years ago


    Source(s): Criminal Records Search Database -
  • 9 years ago

    The name of the case will NOT generally be sufficient. The state or federal agencies can, in fact, sue people as well as bring criminal cases, so the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Foobar Inc" could be either civil or criminal. The case NUMBER, however, may have an identifier, such as CR for criminal or CV for civil.

  • 5 years ago

    Criminal Record Search Database :

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  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    the only surefire place to do this is to flow to the guy courtroom clerks' places of work for those counties. you are able to view the actual documents there. some places are online, some are actually not. you are able to attempt googling them, yet no ensures. Edit: and somewhat some places have regulations on viewing criminal documents.

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