Going to Court

Understanding criminal cases

A legal problem between you and another person or business is called a civil matter or case. A criminal case is between you and the state, and is handled differently. Here’s some basic information to help you understand the difference.  

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Understanding the Basics

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This website helps Ohio residents resolve civil legal problems. It does not provide guidance on criminal cases. Here’s the difference between a civil and criminal case.

A civil matter, or case, is between you and another person or business 

Examples of civil cases we deal with on this site include family law (divorce, separation and dissolution) and property law (disagreements with landlords and creditors). 

What’s at risk? You usually stand to lose property or money.

A criminal case is between you and the state of Ohio or federal government 

In this kind of case, you’re charged with a crime. Crimes can be minor like traffic violations or serious like assault. When you’re facing a criminal case, the local prosecutor has formally charged you with a crime in court. 

What’s at risk? Usually money or jail or both.  

For criminal cases, it’s important to get a lawyer

If you're dealing with a criminal case, you should get a lawyer to help you. But what if you can’t afford one? That’s where the public defender or court appointed counsel comes in. 

If you can’t afford a lawyer to represent you in a criminal case, the state will appoint a public defender to help you. You don’t have to pay the public defender yourself. Instead, the public defender is paid by the county or state government. In some counties, there is court appointed counsel instead of public defenders. This is an attorney that the judge appoints to represent you. Like a public defender, you do not pay the court appointed counsel yourself. They are also paid by the county or state government.

Even though public defenders and court appointed counsel are paid by the government, their job is to work for you and on your behalf. 

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