Limitations of the Criminal Process After a Sex Assault or Rape in NJ or PA
Victims of rape or sex assault in New Jersey or Pennsylvania are often overwhelmed by the criminal legal process. Some may become disenchanted with how they are treated and the eventual outcome in the criminal case. What’s remarkable is how often victims come into our law office and describe how terrifying the criminal case was and how they felt left out of the process.
The reality is that the criminal justice system often re-victimizes the victims and fails to provide victim-centered restitution. That’s because the criminal justice system focuses on the offender who has constitutional rights that must be protected, sometimes at the cost of justice for victims.
Civil Cases – The Litigation Process
Victims of rape and sex assault or abuse have the legal right to seek justice through a civil lawsuit. The parties often include both the criminal perpetrator and other entities which played a role in either allowing the assault to occur in the first place or taking steps to hide the assault/perp after the fact. Here’s a common scenario. An individual is sexually assaulted in the parking lot (of a mall, apartment complex, etc.). The perp had attacked others previously, but the owner/manager of the parking lot failed to take action after learning of the problem. The owner/manager could be held liable in a civil lawsuit along with the criminal perp.
In civil lawsuits, the litigation process is much more involved than the criminal one. Once the lawsuit is filed, the parties begin the discovery phase of the case. During the discovery phase, the parties will exchange documents related to the case such as pictures, medical records, investigation records, internal business records, etc.
The parties will also have the chance to question each other, first through written questions and answers, and later on, via a deposition, which is live testimony that gets memorialized by way of a transcript. Depositions are usually held in conference rooms of law firms, not in court. In addition, deposition testimony is under oath. What is said in a deposition will be used to further settlement negotiations.
After the discovery phase is over, the parties will begin preparations for trial. However, most cases will never get to the courtroom for trial. Instead, about 8 or 9 cases out of 10 will settle prior to trial. Depending on the jurisdiction and local court procedures, courts in NJ and PA usually require settlement conferences, during which the parties will discuss settlement terms in front of a judge or court-appointed official.
Settlement Terms of a Civil Lawsuit for Sex Assault
Settlement terms in a civil lawsuit for sex assault or rape will vary. In most cases, one of the settlement terms will include monetary compensation for the victim’s trauma and any financial expenses like medical bills or therapy costs. In cases where a victim suffers long-term psychological effects that cause debilitating depression or anxiety, which is actually pretty common, the monetary compensation award can include lost wages and future lost wages if disability is permanent.
In addition to the monetary aspect of a settlement, victims can also negotiate non-monetary terms. This is more common in cases that involve schools or churches, where policy changes are needed to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. For example, a student is molested by a teacher over the course of a year, despite multiple reports filed by other teachers to the school principal, who essentially did nothing. The principal’s defense is that the school administrators failed to provide any training on how to handle reports of sexual misconduct. If the case is successfully proven, the student can negotiate the implementation of appropriate procedures about handling reports of sex assault/abuse and mandatory training of all staff.
Victims Have Total Control Over Outcomes
One of the most important elements of a civil lawsuit for sex assault or rape is the amount of control the victim wields. As the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, the victim has complete control over the outcome of the case, such as whether to go to trial or whether to settle and the settlement terms. For example, if there is an offer to settle, the plaintiff can reject the offer and instead opt for trial. The plaintiff’s lawyer will make the legal decisions such as what jurisdiction to file the case in, when to file, and other aspects of legal strategy like what motions to file and how and when to conduct discovery.
New Jersey & Pennsylvania Sex Assault & Rape Victims Lawyers
Our New Jersey and Pennsylvania lawyers represent victims of sex assault and rape in civil lawsuits against perpetrators and other parties.