If I understand correctly, the terms "prosecute," "convict," "guilty," and "innocent" are only used in criminal cases. What are the equivalents in cases of civil violations, such as traffic infractions or violations of radio regulations?

2 Answers 2


For a civil infraction, the typical term is found responsible/not responsible.

For example, Michigan MCL 600.113(1)(b)

(b) "Civil infraction action" means a civil action in which the defendant is alleged to be responsible for a civil infraction.

For violations of Federal regulations, as in the FCC example, the term is found in violation/not in violation.

47 CFR § 95.313(b)

If a Federal court finds that a Personal Radio Service station operator has willfully and knowingly violated any FCC rule, the operator may be fined up to $500 for each violation...

  • Thank you! Do you agree with bdb484 that the equivalent of "prosecute" would be "sue"?
    – Someone
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 23:25
  • 2
    @Someone "Sue" is informal, a short form of "lawsuit". The more formal term in a civil lawsuit would be to "litigate". I think for civil infractions and rule violations, "prosecute" is the best term.
    – user71659
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 23:33

They aren't exact parallels, but I'd say the best equivalents would be "sue," "hold liable," "liable," and "not liable."

  • Thank you! So you would say "The FCC sued John Doe for unlicensed transmissions and he was held liable"?
    – Someone
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 22:54
  • 1
    I think that would be right. Note that we do sometimes say that someone is "prosecuting" civil claims against someone, but it tends to be in more specific contexts, such as a "dismissal for failure to prosecute."
    – bdb484
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 22:58
  • In the example in the comments, isn't "found liable" better? Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 8:25
  • @GregoryCurrie: If you say that the FCC "found" somebody liable, it means the FCC reached that determination entirely on its own, without the involvement of the judicial branch (which is a real thing that happens at least some of the time). You could also say that a court found someone liable, which has the obvious meaning.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 10:09
  • @Kevin It's a passive statement. It doesn't indicate who found him liable. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 11:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .