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Quasi-criminal means a lawsuit or equity proceeding that has some, but not all, of the qualities of a criminal prosecution. It may appear in either a Common law or a Civil law jurisdiction. It refers to "a court's right to punish for actions or omissions as if they were criminal".[1]

The origins of the phrase comes from the Latin language word, quasi, meaning somewhat, sort-of, alike or akin, to criminal law, as in Quasi-contract.[2] Quasi is used "to indicate that one subject resembles another, with which it is compared, in certain characteristics, but there are intrinsic and material differences between them".[3]

During a civil or equity trial, a court may act as if it were a criminal case to punish a person for contempt of court.[1][4] In some cases, a court may impose asset forfeiture or another penalty.[5] For example, a court has the right to punish actions or omissions of a party in a child support case as if they were a criminal, penalizing the parent with a sentence of jail time.[6]


Quasi-criminal proceedings include a wide variety of matters, including prosecution for a violation of law or ordinance, psychiatric matters, motor vehicle law, status offenses, family court actions, and equity proceedings such as a Writ. What these various legal matters have in common are these factors:

  1. They may be instituted by a government agent on behalf of a private citizen, or
  2. They may be instituted by a private citizen on behalf of the Government, Ex rel.
  3. They implicate fundamental rights or constitutional rights, subjecting the Law involved to strict scrutiny by the judiciary.[1][7]
  4. Because of that, they may be subject to the Miranda warning enunciated under the Legal doctrine in Miranda v. Arizona[7] or foreign counterparts.[1]
  5. They are subject to requirements for Bail, if any.[7][8]

Types of quasi-criminal proceedingsEdit

Quasi-criminal actions include:

  1. A violation of law, offense, or ordinance, especially a motor vehicle law, parking ticket, or traffic ticket.[7][9][10][11][12]
  2. Psychiatric matters, such as civil confinement, mental hygiene commitments, and similar proceedings.[13]
  3. Regulatory offenses, such as health department violations, hunting or fishing without a license, and driving while intoxicated or ability impaired (D.W.I. or D.W.A.I.) when such is not a misdemeanor.[10]
  4. Family court actions, including PINS (person in need of supervision) or truancy, juvenile delinquency, child support,[1] Paternity or filiation, child custody, and child visitation ("parenting time"). It may also include, in some states, a divorce action or family offense petition.
  5. Equity proceedings such as a writ, qui tam, contempt of court, bankruptcy, fraud, and the like.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e The Free Dictionary. Accessed June 30, 2008.
  2. ^ See also Quasimodo.
  3. ^ N.Y. Jur. 2d, Words and Phrases, Quasi.
  4. ^ Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Ballentine's Law Dictionary, p. 450
  6. ^ Law Dictionary[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ a b c d Quasi criminal rights of persons charged with Motor vehicle offenses including DWI and Driving While Suspended Archived June 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, citing State v. Cooper, 129 N.J. Super. 229, 231 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 66 N.J. 329 (1974); State v. Selzer, 57 N.J. Super. 327, 330 (Law Div. 1959); State v. Rowe, 116 N.J.L. 48, 51 (1935); Vickey v. Nessler, 230 N.J. Super. 141, 149 (1989); amongst other cases.
  8. ^ Illinois law
  9. ^ N.Y. Penal law, § 10.00, which uses the termm "offense", found at [1], go to "PEN", article 10.
  10. ^ a b Rules of the Cook County Circult Court, Illinois Website Archived May 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed June 30, 2008.
  11. ^ Montaldo, Charles Quasi-criminal on the Website. Accessed June 30, 2008.
  12. ^ David L. Ratley, Judicial Council of Georgia, Administrative Office of the Courts, Memorandum, Zoning & Traffic Fine Questions as applied to POABF, December 18, 2003, found at Georgia Courts Memo on Application of Quasi-criminal Archived July 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed June 30, 2008.
  13. ^ New York Mental Hygiene law, article 81.

External sourcesEdit

  1. Dennis P. Stolle & Mark D. Stuann, Defending Depositions in High-stakes Civil and Quasi-criminal Litigation, West. Crim. Rev. 4(2), at pp. 134–142 (2003), found at: [2]