Criminal lawsuits are initiated by the government against an offending party. The government is referred to as the State, and the person who is being brought into question is referred to as the defendant. Crimes may be in the form of a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor is a minor crime punishable for up to a year in jail while a felony is a serious crime punishable by jail time exceeding a year or death. The burden of proof is on the State. The defendant does not have to prove innocence. It is up to the State instead to prove that the person is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”. At the end of the trial, the defendant is found guilty or not guilty. If guilty, a sentence may include prison time, a fine to be paid to the government, and restitution to victims.
In a criminal case, the government appoints an attorney called a prosecutor to bring a case against a defendant. If the case is in a state court, the prosecutor is a district attorney appointed by county voters. If the case is in a federal court, the prosecutor is a US attorney employed by the Department of Justice. The defendant is represented by a private attorney or if he cannot afford one, the government appoints a public defender – a criminal defense lawyer that is employed by the government. In civil cases, both plaintiff and defendants must hire their own private attorneys.
Reference: Sanchez, M. C. 2015. Food law and regulation for non-lawyers – A US perspective. New York, NY: Springer International.