Can Sexual Assault Victims Force the Prosecutor to Press Charges?

Can Sexual Assault Victims Force the Prosecutor to Press Charges? Sexual assault victims deserve justice. Justice for sexual assault victims can be achieved in two ways. In all instances, if you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you have the right to file a personal injury claim against the person who assaulted you. You may also have a claim against employers and other people, organizations, and businesses that had a duty to protect you and failed to take reasonable steps to protect you.

In addition to civil claims, sexual assault victims receive justice when the person who committed the assault is prosecuted for the criminal acts. There is no requirement that a criminal charge be filed to file a civil complaint. Ideally, the police and prosecution do their job, investigate the assault, and file criminal charges. But again – with the help of our experienced sexual assault lawyers, you can always file a civil damage claim against the perpetrator.

The differences between a criminal charge and a civil complaint

Both criminal and civil charges aim to hold the person who committed the assault accountable. The ways the assaulter is held accountable are different in these respects:

  • The burden of proof is different. In a criminal case, the prosecution must show the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the victim must show the defendant is liable by a preponderance of the evidence – which means the defendant is more likely liable than not.
  • The complaint is different. In California, criminal charges are based on specific violations of the state’s penal code. In civil cases, the complaint is generally based on the principles of personal injury law based on “common law,” which is essentially prior court decisions.
  • The person who files the complaint is different. In criminal cases, the local county prosecutor or a state prosecutor files the complaint. In a civil complaint, the victim files the complaint with the help of experienced sexual assault lawyers.
  • The penalties are different.
    • A defendant in a criminal case, if convicted, may be imprisoned and fined. The fines are paid to the state, not the victim. The defendant may be ordered to pay restitution for any medical expenses. The restitution amount is paid to the victim. The criminal defendant will also have a criminal record, which will likely require that the defendant register with the state’s Sex offender list. This list, among other conditions, requires that the offender register his/her address with the state so the state knows where the offender is at all times.
    • A defendant in a civil case, if found liable, will have to pay damages for your physical pain and emotional suffering, medical bills, and income losses. The emotional suffering part of the award is often the most substantial because sexual assault robs victims of their dignity, their soul, their confidence, and often their ability to function.

How the prosecutor decides to file sexual assault charges

When someone is assaulted, a police officer who investigates what happened will normally arrest the perpetrator. According to the California courts, the prosecutor then decides whether to file criminal charges and what charges to bring. The prosecutor has the discretion to decide which charges to file, though some limitations may apply. For example, if a defendant is in custody/jail, in California, the prosecutor must file the charges within 48 hours of the arrest. Some criminal charges may also be brought through the grand jury process.

Generally, the police will speak with you after a sexual assault happens to understand what happened. The prosecutor may speak with you too. The prosecutor has the final say on whether to file charges. The final say is based on the prosecutor’s discretion.

The discretion, in turn, is based on the following factors:

  • Whether the prosecutor can prove the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Prosecutors have many cases to handle. They need to prioritize the most serious cases and the cases they think they can win. While rape and sexual assault cases should be considered the most serious, the ability to win may depend on many factors, such as:
    • Whether the assailant can be identified
    • The defenses the assailant is likely to assert
    • What evidence is legally admissible
    • Whether the victim is willing to testify
    • Which judges are likely to hear the case
    • Other factors, depending on the specific criminal charge.

All prosecutors should listen to the victim and understand the victim’s viewpoint. However, the decision to file charges is the prosecutor’s to make on his/her own. In some cases, public pressure may help a prosecutor decide to prosecute – but generally, prosecutors have complete discretion to decide if criminal charges should be filed.

At Taylor & Ring, our Los Angeles sexual assault and personal injury lawyers have extensive jury trial experience. We’ve obtained numerous multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. We work with professionals who help victims with the trauma of sexual abuse. We work with prosecutors and the police to coordinate your civil case with any criminal charges. We understand what it takes to successfully represent victims. To speak confidentially with a respected California sexual assault lawyer, please call our office or submit our contact form today.

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