San Diego Sexual Assault Attorney
Sexual assault is a serious harm and is unfortunately too common in San Diego, California. This offense may be prosecuted criminally, civilly or both in the state. Because of the different burdens of proof that are required in criminal and civil court cases, it is possible for sexual assault victims to prevail in civil lawsuits that are filed against their perpetrators even if the abusers are not criminally prosecuted. California clearly defines sexual assaults and batteries that may give rise to civil liability so that victims may be compensated for the wrongs that have been done to them. Our experienced sexual assault lawyers help victims with their civil lawsuits in an effort to hold the perpetrators accountable for the harms that they have caused.
What is sexual assault in California?
Under Cal. Civ. Code § 1708.5, a sexual assault occurs when the perpetrator does any of the following:
• Intentionally acts to commit an offensive or harmful contact with another person’s intimate partner, resulting in an indirect or direct, offensive sexual contact with that person;
• Intentionally acts to commit an offensive or harmful contact with another person with his or her intimate parts, resulting in a direct or indirect, offensive sexual contact;
• Acts in such a manner that the victim feels an imminent fear of a sexual assault and an indirect or direct, offensive sexual contact happens.
The civil statute provides that defendants who are found guilty of civil sexual assault will be liable to pay damages, including general, special and punitive damages.
Sexual assault is also defined under the state’s criminal code. Under Cal. Penal Code § 243.4, sexual assault is called a sexual battery. A perpetrator may be found to be guilty of a criminal sexual battery if the prosecutor is able to prove all of the following elements:
• The defendant touched the victim’s sexual organs, breasts, buttocks, groin or anus while the victim was being restrained by the defendant or by someone else;
• The contact was unwanted by the victim; and
• The defendant completed the act with the intent of being sexually aroused or to sexually abuse the victim.
Under the criminal code, the unwanted touching may be through the clothing of the victim and does not have to be direct, skin-to-skin contact. Sexual battery may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of what happened.
What evidence will be necessary for a sexual assault lawsuit in San Diego?
Sexual assault lawsuits proceed under the civil statute rather than the criminal law. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiffs must prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not to have happened. By contrast, criminal prosecutors must prove the elements of a criminal sexual battery beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the defendants to be found guilty. The lesser burden of proof that is required of civil plaintiffs means that it may be easier to hold perpetrators accountable in civil sexual lawsuits than in criminal cases for the same conduct.
The law allows victims to file civil lawsuits for sexual assault at the same time as criminal cases that might also be pending against the defendants. Even if criminal charges are not filed, the victims may still file civil sexual assault lawsuits against their abusers. In order to prove a civil sexual assault case, the victim must show the following three elements:
1. The defendant intended to cause an offensive sexual contact with the victim’s sexual organ, breasts, buttocks, groin or anus, resulting in a direct or indirect sexual contact with the victim; or
The defendant intended to cause an offensive sexual contact with the victim by using the defendant’s sexual organ, resulting in a direct or indirect sexual contact with the victim; or
The defendant caused the victim to feel an imminent fear of a physical contact with the plaintiff’s breasts, buttocks, anus, groin or sexual organs;
2. The plaintiff did not consent to the sexual conduct;
3. The plaintiff suffered harm because of the defendant’s conduct.
In order to prove a civil sexual assault, experienced sexual assault attorneys may gather direct and circumstantial evidence to present to the court. In many sexual assault cases, there may be little direct evidence, meaning that the cases may rest on circumstantial evidence and testimony.
Prevalence of sexual assault
According to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 31,790 victims received survivors’ services at rape crisis centers in the state during the fiscal year 2011 to 2012. The organization reports that an estimated 20 percent of women in the U.S. have been raped at some time during their lives. Almost half of women in the U.S. have experienced some type of sexual violence other than rape during their lives. The statistics demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault as well as the strong need to do something about it.
Penalties for sexual assault
In criminal sexual battery cases, people who are convicted of misdemeanors may face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 or $3,000 if the perpetrator was the employer of the victim. Felony sexual battery convictions may result in incarceration of up to one year and a fine of up to $2,000. Alternatively, felony sexual battery convictions may also result in imprisonment for 2 to 4 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
In civil sexual assault cases, the defendants may be ordered to pay monetary damages to the victims. The damages may include the following:
• Past and future medical expenses
• Past and future income losses
• Physical pain and suffering
• Emotional distress
• Loss of ability to enjoy life
The defendants may also be ordered to pay punitive damages, which are designed to punish the perpetrators beyond the compensatory damages that they are ordered to pay.
How and when to file a lawsuit for sexual assault in San Diego
Sexual assault civil lawsuits are commenced by filing civil complaints in the courts that hold jurisdiction. Under Ca. Civ. Proc. § 335.1, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of when the incident happened. The statute of limitations may be tolled if the sexual assault happened when the victim was a minor. Under Ca. Civ. Code § 340.1, the time limit may be increased to eight years after the victim reaches age 18 or within three years of when the victim discovers that his or her injuries were caused by the sexual assault.
Contacting a San Diego sexual assault attorney
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, it is important for you to seek legal help. Even if the state does not file criminal charges against the perpetrator, you may still be able to hold him or her accountable for the conduct through a civil sexual assault lawsuit. Contact our office today to schedule your confidential consultation to learn more about your rights.