Criminal cases involve a charge prosecuted by a governmental body, seeking punishment for the violation of a criminal statute while civil cases involve private disputes between individuals where damages or some other remedy is requested.
Before filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff typically demands that the defendant perform certain actions to resolve the conflict. If the demand is refused or ignored, the plaintiff may start a lawsuit by filing a complaint in court and serving copies of it and a summons on the defendant. The complaint must state facts and the law showing the alleged injuries and attribute them to the defendant, and request money damages or equitable relief.
If the case doesn't settle early on, the discovery process begins. The plaintiff sends the defendant written questions seeking information involving the dispute. The parties may depose each other concerning the issues. The parties may request copies of documents for review, or ask to test or examine other types of physical evidence. The discovery process can last weeks or years, depending on the complexity of the case and the level of cooperation between the parties.
At trial, both sides can introduce evidence that will help to prove to the jury or the judge the truth of their positions. Once a final decision has been made at the trial court, the losing party may appeal the decision within a specified period of time.