Sexual assault lawsuits can be very daunting for those considering filing criminal or civil charges, which is why we have created this simple step-by-step guide to help you understand the legal process. *
Step 1: Speak Out
The first step in any sexual assault lawsuit involves speaking to someone, be they a police officer, an attorney or a medical professional. If the assault resulted in physical injury, it is recommended that the survivor go to a medical facility and receive professional medical care before speaking to a law enforcement official or an attorney.
Often, reaching out and speaking to someone about your experience being violated is the hardest part of filing a sexual assault lawsuit. While police officers should, in theory, protect victims of assault and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect, this is not always the case. In many instances, survivors are too afraid to report their assault to law enforcement. Although an official police report can bolster a sexual assault case and add a degree of credibility, California law allows victims to sue for damages without officially reporting a crime to the police. If a survivor wishes to file a criminal case against someone who has perpetrated a sex crime, they will have to report the case to the relevant authorities.
Step 2: Pressing Charges
Who Presses Charges?
It is important to note that neither the police nor the survivor themselves actively press charges – criminal charges can only be pressed by a federal, state or municipal attorney. Individual and the relevant authorities provide prosecutors with the evidence required to charge someone with a crime, but ultimately the act itself is decided by the state. In some instances, the state can decide to move forward with a case and press charges even if the survivor actively chooses not to be involved.
What is the Burden of Proof in California?
The burden of proof for civil and criminal cases is slightly different. In criminal cases, the prosecution must be able to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the defendant is guilty. In civil cases, the prosecution must prove that it is ‘more likely than not’ the case that the defendant is guilty.
Unfortunately, many sexual assault cases never make it to court. Only 13 out of every 1000 cases of rape are referred to a prosecutor. The California Legal Team is trying to change this statistic, which is why speaking out (step 1) is so important.
Step 3: Court
If charges are pressed and a case is opened, the next step will involve going to court. In many instances, sexual assault cases are resolved via plea bargains. A plea bargain is, essentially, an agreement between the representatives of the defendant and the perpetrator, wherein the perpetrator agrees to plead guilty to the crime of sexual assault in order for a reduction in sentencing. Plea bargains can be conducted solely via attorneys, and thus do not require survivors to physically testify.
Step 4: Trial
If a plea bargain is not reached, a criminal case may then be taken to trial. In this case, the survivor will have to take the stand and testify against their perpetrator. The trial proceeding can often include evidence submitted by law enforcement or medical professionals, as well as testimony from witnesses.
Whether a case goes to court or not is primarily dependent on survivors reaching out. Our California Legal Team is committed to ensuring the victims receive the best legal support possible, so if you or someone near to you have experienced sexual assault do not hesitate to contact us for advice.
* Please note that the following guidelines apply to adults looking to pursue legal recourse. Sexual assault cases involving sex crimes committed against a minor are potentially very different.