I am writing this blog to explain civil litigation in Georgia as best I can. As time goes on there will be more and more complex articles that may be of great use to other attorneys, but in the beginning we will cover the essentials that will allow ordinary people to feel more comfortable in handling their civil cases on their own.
The most important distinction in the law lies between criminal law and civil law. Think of them as two distant branches of the same family. They have some similar features in that they involve trials, many shared rules of evidence, the thrill of cross examination and defense lawyers. Otherwise though they are systems of justice administering to totally different components of our society. Georgia workers compensation attorneys work in a specific subset of law governed by Georgia workers compensation law. There is an administrative law board instead of jury trials and the case law and rules of evidence for workers comp are completely different.
Criminal Law is a body of law designed to delineate between criminal and non-criminal actions. It covers everything from speeding tickets all the way through death penalty murder trials. The party bring the case is always a government entity and the whole purpose of the case is to determine guilt or innocence and the appropriate punishment. Think of it this way; criminal law is only about crime and punishment.
In every case the government (whether it be Federal Government, the State, the City etc) brings the case against the defendant person or corporation. The defendant is charged with the crime and the defendant has the option of hiring a criminal defense lawyer, having one appointed by the court if they are broke or representing themselves (pro se in the latin).
The government has the burden of proof. That means it is the government’s job to bring evidence (testimony, photos, documents) to trial to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty. If you think of the burden of proof as one of those carnival bell hammer things, the government has to hit the device hard enough for the ball to fly up and hit the bell. The burden in a criminal case is much higher than in a civil case. They must bring enough evidence to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did the crime. In the law that is like making the jury think there is a 90% chance the person did it. Think of the OJ case. There the jury wasn’t necessarily saying that they did not do it, but simply that they were not 90% sure that he did it.
Next, we will discuss how a criminal case generally progresses.