Criminal litigation refers to a trial in criminal court. Criminal litigation is distinct from civil litigation in most countries. Civil litigation is a private lawsuit between two parties, while criminal litigation is litigation brought by the state against an individual.
Under the due process clause of the United States Constitution, individuals cannot be deprived of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness without due process of the law. A fair and just trial with a jury of peers is part of due process, and is also guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment. Under these rules, a person cannot be subject to punishment without criminal litigation first taking place.
Only an authorized government official — a prosecutor — is permitted to institute a criminal trial. This makes a criminal trial distinct from a civil lawsuit, in which one party can sue another party for violating a legal duty. While some actions and behaviors can give rise to both criminal and civil litigation, the criminal trial must always be kept separate from the civil trial.
A prosecutor may bring criminal charges only after going through proper legal channels to ensure the charges are appropriate. The process varies depending on the jurisdiction. In the United States, a prosecutor must show probable cause to bring criminal charges against an individual and then must get an indictment, proving he has sufficient evidence that the accused violated a legal duty, to bring the person to trial.
After an indictment and arrest, a criminal trial normally takes place. During the trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proving the defendant violated a law. Criminal trials require the highest standard of proof, which means the prosecutor must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defendant has a number of potential defenses available to him in a criminal trial. He can attempt to introduce reasonable doubt about one or more elements of the crime, such as proving that he didn't have the required intent or that he didn't commit the illegal actions. He can also introduce affirmative defenses, such as self defense.