Filing a Civil Suit for a Sexual Assault Crime

By Lowry Law Firm | Posted on January 15, 2016

Sexual assault is a heinous crime. For survivors of sexual assault, it is important to know your legal options should you seek to pursue the perpetrator. There are criminal proceedings and civil suits. To be sure, survivors of sexual assault can pursue both as avenues of justice, although sexual assault survivors cannot act as plaintiffs in a criminal matter. An experienced civil litigation lawyer can help you better understand your options and help you through the claims process.The difference between criminal proceedings and civil suits There are two significant ways that civil suits and criminal proceedings involving sexual assault differ. One difference is the role of the survivor. A civil suit is a private lawsuit and is initiated by the plaintiff (the survivor). The plaintiff has more control over the workings of the case in a civil suit. For example, the plaintiff gets to decide to sue, take a settlement, or take the case to trial. In a criminal suit, the prosecuting attorney initiates the suit. The prosecuting attorney acts as a representative of the state and the survivor acts as a witness to the prosecution.The second way civil and criminal proceedings differ is the burden of proof. In a criminal court, guilt of the defendant must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the prosecution must provide proof of the defendant’s guilt. Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the jurors or judge do not have doubts as to the defendant’s guilt or that doubts they may have are unreasonable. In comparison, in a civil suit, the plaintiff must prove the asserted claims. In this case, there must be a preponderance of evidence, meaning that the plaintiff must show that it is more likely than not that the claims set forth are true. Where the purpose of criminal court is to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty, in the civil justice system, the purpose is to determine if the wrongdoer or a third party should be held liable for injuries to the plaintiff. In general, liability means that the defendant must pay for financial damages.

If the defendant is found guilty in criminal court, they face punishment such as time served on probation or in jail or prison. The survivor will not receive monetary compensation through criminal court proceedings unless the court mandates that the defendant pay restitution. Restitution covers some expenses resulting from the crime. However, oftentimes poor enforcement and limitations placed on what is included in a restitution order limit the power of restitution to provide adequately for the survivor. Alternatively, if the defendant is found liable in civil court, they are obligated to compensate the survivor. Recovered monetary damages include medical and mental health expenses and lost income as well as compensation for damaged relationships, psychological damage, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. In some cases, a defendant may be found liable in civil court even if they were found not guilty in criminal court.

Make an Informed Choice

As a survivor of sexual assault, you deserve to choose how to proceed. Bringing a civil case against a perpetrator or third party is a very personal choice. Mark S. Lowry can provide more information to help you in your decision. Contact the office today for a free case evaluation.