As a survivor of sexual abuse, there are several paths you may choose to take in your pursuit of justice and healing. One path might be to file a civil proceeding and another could be to press criminal charges. Thankfully, you don’t have to choose one over the other. You can press criminal charges and file a civil proceeding for the same crime—either separately or simultaneously.
Here you’ll learn about the differences between civil proceedings and criminal cases; the advantages of timing your legal actions in different ways; reasons why it’s worth pursuing the civil claim even if a related criminal case ends short of a plea or conviction; and how filing a civil suit for sexual abuse can empower you while the criminal case is still pending.
What Are the Differences Between Civil and Criminal Litigation?
Criminal law deals with behavior that is a danger to society, with consequences that may include jail time, fines to be paid to the government, and inclusion on the National Sex Offender Registry. The State Attorney General runs the proceedings and seeks to establish the Defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On the other hand, civil law deals with negligent or wrongful behavior that may lead to personal injury, with compensation awarded to the survivor for losses suffered. Another difference to note: beyond the obvious perpetrator of the abuse, the civil justice system allows for multiple parties to be prosecuted. This allows for a school district to be held legally responsible for the actions of a school employee, for example.
|Civil Litigation For Sex Abuse||Criminal Litigation For Sex Abuse|
|Goal is to compensate the victim||Goal is to hold the perpetrator accountable|
|Victim controls the case||Case is brought by the state prosecutor|
|9 of 12 jurors must agree||All 12 jurors must agree|
|Proof is “more likely than not”||Proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”|
|Non-economic damages are recoverable||“Pain and suffering” is not compensated|
|Other parties may be held liable||Only the accused is on trial|
Why Might You Run Concurrent Civil and Criminal Proceedings?
It is not uncommon to have criminal cases pending alongside tort lawsuits. Filing a civil proceeding while the criminal proceedings are underway may:
- Increase your odds of winning a criminal case: If prosecutors are on the fence over whether to bring charges against the Defendant, the act of filing a civil motion can add to the validity of the claim and cause prosecutors to take a closer look at the case.
- Increase the odds of a guilty verdict: Civil proceedings can call upon the Defendant as a witness to hear the other side of the story. This may make the defense counsel nervous because their client may inadvertently incriminate him or herself by answering questions. Documents and evidence disclosed in discovery can make it to a criminal trial and be admitted as evidence before the jury, thus strengthening the chances the Defendant will be found guilty.
- Expedite the resolution: If the Defendant waived the right to a speedy trial, criminal proceedings can last for a while. Civil proceedings aren’t always quickly resolved, either. Having both running concurrently could potentially resolve the whole ordeal faster.
If My Criminal Case Lost, Can I Still Pursue a Civil Case?
The short answer is: yes. According to a White House report, thousands of sexual assault cases are abandoned each year because “law enforcement and prosecutors are not fully trained on the nature of these crimes or how best to investigate and prosecute them.” Rape and sexual assault are notoriously difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” because of the cultural assumptions surrounding this type of crime.
The Kobe Bryant rape case is one example of a case that failed in criminal court but prevailed in civil court. Though the felony sexual assault charge was dropped because the accuser decided not to testify, Bryant subsequently settled the civil suit outside of court by paying a confidential sum. The resolution came less than a week after Bryant was scheduled to give a deposition to the accuser’s attorneys in Orange County and six months after the felony sexual assault charge against him was dropped.
District Attorneys don’t always agree to prosecute. This rejection can be a huge let-down for survivors of sexual assault, but fortunately, the civil courts still allow some measure of justice. For this reason, it is also very common for victims to file a civil proceeding after losing a criminal case. It’s worth seeking monetary compensation, particularly if you have missed work or leave a job due to depression, anxiety, or the abuse suffered.
Explore Your Legal Options in the Aftermath of Sexual Abuse
There are many benefits to pursuing a civil case while a criminal case is still pending. The civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn are always prepared to fight hard for your case. We have the experienced litigators, knowledge of the law, and the resources necessary to take on your case and win.
We are here to listen to you whenever you’re ready, whether it’s days after the abuse occurred or many years later, whether you’ve pressed criminal charges or not. Speaking with us may open the door to the justice you deserve.
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