Recently, one of the stand-out legal cases has been the case of Kesha, a music artist, bringing a civil suit against her record label, with claims of rape. While we are totally avoiding the minefield of discussions of rape, the case also brings up interesting questions about why somebody would want to try a case like this through a civil court.
There are actually some very good reasons why somebody would want to do it this way, but the biggest is the lower levels of burden of proof. In the criminal justice system, the burden of proof is high, with it described as needing to rise to the level of “guilty beyond all reasonable doubt”. This means that if there is a single reason to doubt any of the evidence laid out before you, whether physical evidence or testimony, then that would be reason enough to let the accused walk free.
In the civil legal system, the burden of proof is lower than that. The civil judicial system establishes its courtroom diktats through the rules of probability, namely that the plaintiff (the victim/accuser) has the burden to prove his case by the preponderance of the evidence. This can also be described as the requirement that they prove that the likelihood of the accusation being true is higher than it not being true. Understandably, this makes it a lot easier to make your case.
Another reason why somebody would want to start a civil case before a criminal one is when there is an ongoing civil contract between the accuser and the accused. Often times suing somebody for the harm caused by the actual criminal act is hard to achieve before the crime has been established as true in criminal court, but when the situation is complicated by ongoing interaction between the two involved in the suit, and the goal is to cease that interaction, then those limitations are often removed.