Cases that come before a court may generally be divided into two categories: civil and criminal. Civil law deals with acts that injure a person or a person’s rights. Civil law provides remedies, such as monetary damages or declaratory relief, that are intended primarily to compensate the injured party. Civil law covers numerous areas, including real estate, domestic relations, partnership, taxes, contracts, and wills and trusts.

Criminal law declares what conduct is criminal and prescribes the punishment to be imposed for it. A criminal action is always prosecuted in the name of the federal government (“The United States of America”), the state (“The People of the State”), or a political subdivision, because the case is based on the alleged violation of the rights of all the people. The remedy sought in a criminal case is intended to punish the offender. The major categories of crimes are crimes against the person (as homicide or assault) or crimes against property (as arson or theft). A single act may be the basis for both civil and criminal penalties.