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The Criminal Justice System: An Overview for Victims of Child Molestation, Priest and Clergy Abuse, Sexual Assault and Sex Abuse

In the criminal justice systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the state which is represented by a prosecutor’s office, prosecutes sex offenders and perpetrators. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish these criminals for their heinous crimes. However, the criminal justice system has another, equally important purpose – to provide victims of child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse with an opportunity to be heard. Coming forward and reporting sex abuse is the single most important step a sex abuse victim can take in the road to justice. Shame, guilt, embarrassment, and fear of retribution are some of the most common emotions a sex abuse victim may feel. However, reporting the crime to law enforcement is the first step in obtaining justice in the criminal justice system.

What Happens in a Criminal Case?

After a sex abuse victim reports the abuse, law enforcement investigates the crime and decides whether to refer the case to the appropriate prosecuting office in PA or NJ for prosecution. In some instances, an abuser might not be arrested or a case may be declined for prosecution for lack of evidence. In the criminal justice system, a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard imposed by law and this means that in some cases there will not be enough evidence to meet the standard for criminal prosecution. That does not mean, however, that a sex abuse victim’s search for justice ends there. Victims of child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse can bring successful civil cases against defendants and others who contributed to the crime or injury.

After a case is investigated and enough evidence is obtained, a defendant will be arrested and arraigned. In some instances, a sex abuse crime victim may have to testify at a Preliminary Hearing – a hearing in which a judge determines if there is enough evidence to hold the case over for court.  After the Preliminary Hearing, the case is moved forward for trial.

How are Criminal Cases Resolved?

The vast majority of cases are resolved by way of a plea agreement, in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to one or more of the charges. If a plea agreement is not reached, the assistant prosecutor will present evidence at trial. After a guilty verdict or plea, the defendant will be sentenced according to Pennsylvania or New Jersey’s mandatory sentencing law or sentencing guidelines. A sentence can include any combination of the following: a jail or prison term, probation, fines, fees, and restitution.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of sex abuse, contact Brian Kent, an experienced sex abuse victims civil lawyer in NJ and PA.  Mr. Kent handles child molestation, sexual assault, sex abuse, and priest/clergy abuse cases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He works with attorneys nationwide and can also be admitted in other states to handle matters on a case by case basis. 800.220.7600