The Difference Between Civil Sexual Assault and Criminal Sexual Assault

If you or someone you know has been charged with sexual assault, one of the first things you should know is whether the case will be tried in civil or criminal court. Each of these types of sexual assault cases have very different conditions that will affect not only potential penalties as outcomes of the case, but also how much control the alleged accuser has over the manner in which the case proceeds.

It’s important, first of all, to realize that everyone involved in any court case has the right to a fair trial and reasonable outcomes. Although the ultimate outcome is left up to a judge and/or jury, an experienced attorney can help ensure the outcome of any trial is as fair as possible.

Civil Sexual Assault Legal Cases

A civil sexual assault case is handled by the accuser (usually as represented by their attorney), and this person has the right to decide the direction of the case, including evidence presented and damages asked for. The purpose of a civil case is to determine whether it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for damages, and the accuser only needs to prove it is 51 percent or more likely that the defendant is the cause of the damage. In a civil case involving sexual assault, instead of suing for “sexual assault,” the accuser sues formally for charges such as Assault, Battery, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, or False Imprisonment.

If a civil sexual assault trial results in confirmation of liability of the accused, he or she may have to pay the accuser and/or their family damages, including legal fees, compensation for medical expenses, psychological damage, damage to relationships, lost wages, and so on.

A sexual assault defendant can be tried in civil court by an accuser even if a criminal court declared the defendant innocent of a crime, and an accused person can be charged criminally regardless of the outcome of a civil case. Civil cases will not result in a criminal record.

Criminal Sexual Assault Legal Cases

A criminal sexual assault case is handled as a crime against the state and brought to court by the state rather than by the accuser. Therefore, the accuser doesn’t have a say in the direction of the case, but only appears as a witness for the prosecution. The accuser can’t veto anything the prosecution decides, for example, and doesn’t control whether a settlement is requested or received.

The primary purpose of a criminal sexual assault case is to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant of a particular crime, and the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

A sexual assault defendant in criminal court can be ordered to pay the accuser, but only to compensate for financial costs incurred by the accuser. If a defendant is found guilty, outcomes can include incarceration or probation. If a person is found guilty of a sex-related crime in criminal court, it is virtually impossible to prove during a civil case based on the same incidents that no damages occurred.

If a defendant is found innocent of the crime, he or she can’t be tried again for the same crime in criminal court.

Sexual Assault is Usually an Intentional Tort when Brought in Civil Court

A tort claim is a claim that seeks compensation for damage caused by actions of the accused. These types of claims in all areas of law can be either negligent or intentional. A negligent tort case claims that the accused had a responsibility to take actions that would have prevented the damage from happening. An intentional tort claim involves an action the accused took related to a conscious intention to harm the accuser.

Civil sexual assault cases against individuals tend to be intentional torts, because the accused person is assumedly in control of their own sex-related actions. Third-party individuals also can be named in a sexual assault tort. Imagine the director of department who intentionally creates conditions for a mid-management-level supervisor to commit a sexual assault against an employee he or she is interested in.

Defense of Sexual Assault in Civil Court and Criminal Court

Since the accuser of a sexual assault has little control over whether the state brings a lawsuit against the perpetrator of a crime, civil court provides them an opportunity to feel as though they have more control. That’s one of the most common reasons sexual assault accusers take cases to civil court. However, there are pros and cons of deciding to bring suit for sexual assault in civil court.

Complexity of Defense in Civil Court

Civil sexual assault cases can be easier to prosecute than criminal cases, in some ways, because sexual assault attorneys in civil cases are required to prove only a preponderance of the evidence. For the same reason, sexual assault cases in civil court can be more difficult to defend. When an accused is wealthy or famous, accusers often are especially determined to reach a settlement or ask for court-ordered damages. This and other factors can put many accused at risk for false accusations, which may be difficult to disprove.

In any case, sexual assault is a serious charge with complex issues that may require the knowledge and experience of dedicated sexual assault attorneys who know the nuances of such cases and can provide skillful defenses that protect the rights of the accused.

If you or someone you know is facing sexual assault charges, whether in civil or criminal court, contact the attorneys at Berry Law to get the aggressive representative you deserve.

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