A civil penalty
or civil fine
is a financial penalty imposed by a government agency as restitution for wrongdoing. The wrongdoing is typically defined by a codification of legislation, regulations, and decrees. The civil fine is not considered to be a criminal punishment, because it is primarily sought in order to compensate the state for harm done to it, rather than to punish the wrongful conduct. As such, a civil penalty, in itself, will not carry jail time or other legal penalties. For example, if a person were to dump toxic waste in a state park, the state would have the same right to seek to recover the cost of cleaning up the mess as would a private landowner, and to bring the complaint to a court of law
, if necessary.
Civil penalties occupy a strange place in some legal systems - because they are not criminal penalties, the state need not meet a burden of proof
that is "balance of probabilities"; but because the action is brought by the government, and some civil penalties can run into the millions of dollars, it would be uncomfortable to subject citizens to them by a burden of proof that is merely a "preponderance of the evidence." Therefore, the assessment of most civil penalties requires a finding of "clear and convincing evidence
" before a civil defendant will be held liable. A defendant may well raise excuses, justifications, affirmative defenses, and procedural defenses. An administrative law
judge or hearing officer may oversee the proceedings and render a judgment. Judgment is made on the balance of probabilities. Meaning, if it is more than 50% likely that the accused is responsible then the accused shall be found guilty
In some cases, a civil penalty may be supplemented by other legal process, including administrative sanctions or even criminal charges, and their respective appeals. For example, failure to pay a fine assessed for a traffic code violation may result in administrative suspension of a driver's license, and further driving after suspension may be a criminal offense. On the other hand, a minimal case may be "put on file", or otherwise suspended for a period during which the defendant may be required to avoid further violations, or carry out specific duties (such as making repairs or restitution, or attending supplemental education), after which the matter is dismissed.
In other cases, such as public safety and consumer protection
violations, the local authorities may revoke permits and licenses, and seek injunction to stop or remove non-conforming works or goods, in addition to the civil penalty.
Pending or admitted civil violations may also be used as evidence of responsibility in a civil suit. One example is speeding causing in a car accident, resulting in a wrongful death claim
. However, the plaintiff may be required to prove causation through a harm encompassed in the regulations.