Criminal vs. civil case in sex abuse matter: What’s the difference?

The high-profile O.J. Simpson litigation that played out in Southern California courts some years back likely engendered a bit of confusion for many people regarding the mechanics of the judicial system.

Some of our readers, for example, might have reasonably posed this question: Why was he tried twice?

We bring that up today because the Simpson court cases serve as an instructive introduction to the concept of criminal versus civil trials under American law. That distinction is highly relevant in many areas of law and life, including child sexual abuse cases.

Simpson was, of course, tried in a criminal case, where he was acquitted. In a criminal matter, the plaintiff is essentially the larger society (“the people,” if you will), with its interests being primarily promoted, not those of any injured individual. The people’s lawyer is a government prosecutor. The bottom line for a defendant most often centers on potential incarceration.

In a civil case (Simpson was found liable in that venue), a private attorney advocates on behalf of a victim who is suing a wrongdoer. In a child sex abuse matter, the plaintiff is the child victim and his or her family, with the defendant being the perpetrator. There is no “public” agenda to focus upon in a civil case per se, with an attorney being focused solely on promoting the victim’s best interests. Monetary compensation is usually an overriding goal of civil litigation.

There are additional — and material — distinctions between civil and criminal cases, which collectively spotlight the importance for an abuse victim to secure the assistance of a proven civil litigation attorney when a wrong has occurred and justice is sought to redress it.

We will delve into those in our next blog post.

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