A democratic society survives by adherence to a concept sometimes referred to as "ordered liberty." Constitutional government, both on the national and state level, operates, at least in part, for the purpose of determining what conduct amongst men shall be prohibited. The legislative branch of both the national and state governments has as its primary function the implementation of laws. Ordered liberty, requires us to take the position that we are a nation of laws‑‑ not men. We must govern man's relationship with his fellow man and with the state. Laws, whether civil or criminal in nature, are designed to permit the greatest possible liberty to the greatest number. The law requires that each of us surrender some amount of personal or individual freedom in order that we may gain protection under the law. Thus, we avoid a society that, without rule of law, would be founded upon the concept of survival of the fittest.
We are a nation of laws because our basic philosophy is that no person is above the law. If society is to function as a democracy, it is necessary that all of its citizens submit to the law. Men do play a role in the lawmaking process and in the direction of its enforcement and interpretation.
Laws, as determined by the legislature or by the Congress, fall into two general categories, civil and criminal.
Civil law is any law which regulates man's conduct with his fellow man. The civil law concerns itself with personal relationships such as torts or personal injury matters, contractual obligations, business relationships, and domestic relationships. A person who is injured by another who violates a rule of conduct covered under a civil law may sue for money damages or for injunctive relief. Since the civil law regulates man's conduct with his fellow man, a lawsuit may be brought by one individual against another, seeking money damages. For most civil wrongs, the remedy available is an award of money damages. Money damages, however inadequate they may be in a given situation, are the only means by which our legal system can attempt to make a victim of civil wrong whole again.
Criminal laws, on the other hand, are designed to regulate man's conduct with the state or with his government. Criminal actions are brought in the name of the governmental authority and not in the name of the individual. The remedy under a criminal law violation is either a fine, (which is like money damages in the civil action but which under criminal law is payable to the state,) or imprisonment, (i.e., isolation from society). The police officer today should be familiar with basic civil law concepts. However, for the most part, law enforcement works within the context of the criminal law. For this reason, it is essential to understand both the nature and the theory of the criminal law in order to effectively carry out one's duty on a day to day basis.