A civil offense is a violation of an administrative matter. Civil offenses range from a corporations violation of a consumer statute to an individual being charged with contempt of a court-ordered agreement.
A common civil offense is contempt of court. These contempt charges often arise from family court systems where a parent is ordered to pay child support. If the parent ordered to pay child support does not do so, the other parent can petition the court for contempt sanctions.
Jail time can be a consequence for a civil offense, but the violation occurs from a civil or administrative dispute and not from a criminal violation.
A criminal offense is a violation of a state or federal law. A criminal offense can result in a fine, arrest or jail time, just like a civil offense, but the punishments are oftentimes more severe in criminal violations.
Many people are confused by what is considered a civil or criminal offense. If a person is pulled over and given a ticket for speeding, it may be a civil matter, but by signing the ticket and agreeing to appear in court or to take care of the fine, criminal charges can be filed if the person does not, or refuses to do so.