Exploring Civil vs. Criminal Sexual Assault Cases: What's the Difference?

When sexual assault occurs, it can lead to both civil and criminal legal proceedings. While criminal cases focus on the state's pursuit of justice and punishment for offenders, civil cases provide survivors with a means of seeking compensation for their damages and holding perpetrators financially accountable.

Both types of cases have their distinct purposes and burdens of proof, each contributing to a comprehensive approach to addressing the multifaceted aspects of sexual assault cases. Understanding the differences between civil and criminal sexual assault cases is crucial for comprehending the nuances of these legal processes.

Legal Framework and Purpose

Criminal Sexual Assault Cases

Criminal cases involve the state prosecuting the alleged perpetrator for committing a crime against society as a whole. In criminal sexual assault cases, the government, represented by the prosecuting attorney, brings charges against the accused for violating criminal laws. The primary goal of criminal cases is to establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt and, if found guilty, impose penalties such as imprisonment, fines, probation, or other punitive measures.

Civil Sexual Assault Cases

Civil cases, on the other hand, are disputes between private parties seeking compensation or some form of legal resolution for harm suffered. In civil sexual assault cases, the survivor (plaintiff) files a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator (defendant) seeking monetary damages and possibly injunctive relief. The purpose of civil cases is to hold the defendant accountable for their actions and to provide the survivor with compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial damages they've endured.

Burden of Proof

Criminal Sexual Assault Cases

The burden of proof in a criminal case is considerably high, as the prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard requires that there be no plausible alternative explanation that could lead to innocence. In sexual assault cases, this means presenting evidence that leaves little room for doubt about the defendant's guilt.

Civil Sexual Assault Cases

Civil cases have a lower burden of proof compared to criminal cases. In civil sexual assault cases, the plaintiff must establish their case based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that they need to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant's actions caused the harm alleged. While this standard is not as demanding as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, it still requires convincing evidence.

Legal Remedies

Criminal Sexual Assault Cases

The primary goal of criminal cases is to secure justice for society as a whole by holding perpetrators accountable through punitive measures. If the accused is found guilty, they may face imprisonment, fines, probation, mandatory counseling, or other penalties as determined by the court. The survivor may have the opportunity to provide input during the sentencing phase, but they do not control the outcome of the case.

Civil Sexual Assault Cases

Civil cases focus on compensating the survivor for the harm they've suffered. If the plaintiff prevails in a civil sexual assault case, they may be awarded monetary damages to cover medical expenses, therapy costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related losses. Additionally, the court may issue injunctive relief, such as restraining orders or orders to prevent the defendant from contacting the survivor.

Double Jeopardy

A notable distinction between civil and criminal cases is the concept of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy prevents a person from being tried twice for the same crime based on the same set of facts. This means that if a criminal case results in an acquittal (a “not guilty” verdict), the defendant cannot be retried for the same offense.

However, this principle does not apply to civil cases. Even if a criminal case ends in an acquittal, a survivor can still pursue a civil lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator for the harm they've suffered.

Collateral Consequences

Criminal convictions can have severe collateral consequences beyond immediate legal penalties. These consequences may include difficulties in finding employment, housing, or educational opportunities. In civil cases, while a judgment against the defendant does not result in a criminal record, it can still impact the defendant's financial stability and reputation.

Let KMD Law Help You

Sexual assault cases, whether civil or criminal, play a crucial role in addressing the harm caused by these deeply traumatic events. Understanding the differences between these two legal processes is essential for survivors, legal professionals, and society at large.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, it's important to seek legal help as soon as possible. KMD Law has experience with both civil and criminal sexual assault cases and can help you navigate the legal system.

Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.