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The Distinction Between Criminal, Tort, and Moral Wrongs

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The tort law should seek to protect these same interests against all other external deprivations, including many that are strictly accidental, by awarding money damages to the victim from the wrongdoer. In some cases of imminent danger injunctive relief could be appropriate as well, although the issue of prospective relief injects a mass of complications to which I shall briefly refer later.

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A tort is a wrongful act that injures or interferes with another's person or property. A tort case is a civil court proceeding. The accused is the "defendant" and the victim is a "plaintiff." The charges are brought by the plaintiff. If the defendant loses, the defendant has to pay damages to the plaintiff. A crime is a wrongful act that the state or federal government has identified as a crime. A criminal case is a criminal proceeding. The accused is also called a 'defendant". The victim is the person who has been hurt or the state of Georgia or other governmental entity. The charges are brought by the government. If the defendant loses, the defendant must serve a sentence. A fine is paid to the government and there is possible restitution to the victim. The state has made selling heroin (event 1) a crime. Mary would be prosecuted for this crime in a criminal proceeding by a district attorney representing the people of the state. If found guilty, Mary could be fined and sent to jail. The victim of a crime is not a party to the legal action. Jack would not be suing Mary. Rather, he would be one of several witnesses for the state in the case against her in court. Tort cases are heard in civil proceedings. The legal process is quite different from criminal proceedings. The civil process provides a legal means for victims of harmful acts to be compensated for the harm done to them. Event 2 is a tort. Mrs. Frayle has been injured by Steve's act. In order to recover money for the harm or damage she has suffered, the civil process requires that Mrs. Frayle sue Steve. Furthermore, she must bear the cost in terms of time, energy, and money for doing so.

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“In the beginning,” of course, crime and tort were not sharply distinguished. At early common law, a victim could pursue justice for the same wrongful act either through a forerunner of criminal law or through a forerunner of tort law. But over time, criminal law and tort law have evolved to encompass a number of distinctive and contrasting features (David J. Seipp, 1996). The following nine features are especially salient. The state prosecutes violations of criminal law. A victim's consent is neither necessary nor sufficient for a prosecution to be brought. In tort law, by contrast, the victim decides whether to bring a tort claim and is free to choose not to do so. Criminal law often imposes much more severe sanctions than tort law, of course: loss of liberty or even of life. So the procedural protections in criminal law obviously are much more extensive and (in theory at least) a much greater barrier to liability (John C.P. Goldberg & Benjamin C. Zipursky, 2005). For example, the criminal defendant, unlike the tort defendant, must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the exclusionary rule sometimes applies, and the double-jeopardy rule precludes the same jurisdiction from pursuing multiple convictions for the same conduct.

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In brief, sometimes criminal behavior has no civil law counterpart. For example, the crime of possessing burglary tools does not have a civil law equivalent. Conversely, many civil actions do not violate criminal law. For example, civil suits for divorce, wills, or contracts do not have a corresponding criminal wrong. Even though there is certainly an overlap between criminal law and civil law, it is not a perfect overlap. Because there is no legal action that can be filed for committing a moral wrong, there really is not any overlap between criminal wrongs, civil wrongs, and moral wrongs.

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David J. Seipp, The Distinction Between Crime and Tort in the Early Common Law, 76 B.U. L. REV. 59, 59 (1996).

John C.P. Goldberg & Benjamin C. Zipursky, Accidents of the Great Society, 64 MD. L. REV. 364, 402-03 (2005)

Benjamin C. Zipursky, Civil Recourse, Not Corrective Justice, 91 GEO. L.J. 695 (2003)

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Essay sample
The Distinction Between Criminal, Tort, and Moral Wrongs
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