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A Criminal Case is a Lawsuit in which the Government is Suing a Person

I talked here about the beginning of an understanding of the American criminal “justice” system, the principle that “legal” doesn’t mean “right” and “illegal” doesn’t mean “wrong.”

After “illegal ? wrong,” the next principle that needs to be recognized for an understanding of the American criminal “justice” system is this:

A criminal case is a lawsuit in which the government is suing a person.

The idea is that every crime is a crime against the government. In Texas, for example, all charging instruments allege that the offense was committed “against the peace and dignity of the State.” This idea — that a crime is an affront to the crown, and that it must be punished by the crown’s men — is as ancient as the common law.

If one person injures another and the government doesn’t think that a law was violated, the government won’t sue the person who caused the injury.

If the government thinks that person violated the law, it will sue the person even if nobody was injured (most crime fits this pattern).

The person allegedly injured in a crime is a witness (commonly the “complaining witness”). In the government’s lawsuit against some other person, the prosecutor represents the government, and nobody else.

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