Sexual assault in Texas is defined in the criminal code, but instances can be punished by both criminal proceedings and a civil lawsuit. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the government, and the punishment can include imprisonment and criminal fines. In a civil case, the plaintiff is the victim, and the punishment is money for civil damages.
Criminal prosecution is an important step to keep perpetrators from repeating their crimes. A civil lawsuit, however, is what permits the victim to be compensated by the perpetrator or other liable parties. While the procedures are separate, one can impact the other. If you are a victim, a Dallas sexual assault victim lawyer can help you understand your legal rights.
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Relationship Between Criminal And Civil Texas Sexual Assault Cases
The same abusive action can result in both criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit. A prosecutor works with law enforcement to prosecute an offender while a victim hires a private sexual abuse attorney to bring a civil action. These two teams are independent of each other, but their work affects the other proceeding.
Criminal vs Civil Burden Of Proof
Criminal prosecutions have a higher burden of proof than a lawsuit. The criminal prosecutor needs to show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in a lawsuit, the plaintiff only needs to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the acts alleged.
If a prosecution and conviction happen before a lawsuit, it can help the lawsuit. The defendant will then have already been found to be at fault by a higher standard than that applied in the lawsuit. However, if the accused is found not guilty in a criminal trial, the civil lawsuit can still go forward, and the victim can win because the burden of proof is lower.
Sexual Assault Laws in Texas
The definition of criminal sexual assault in the Texas Statutes is based on the common law meaning of “assault.” It occurs when a perpetrator threatens a victim with bodily harm.
Certain elements must be present for an assault claim to be actionable:
- The perpetrator intended their actions to cause the fear of harmful or offensive contact.
- The victim did, in fact, experience fear that harmful or offensive contact would happen.
- The perpetrator made a gesture that the victim reasonably interpreted to be threatening.
Under the sexual assault laws in Texas, actionable civil sexual assault occurs when a perpetrator intends to and does engage in behavior that a victim reasonably interprets as unwanted physical contact that is sexual in nature.
The Role Of Intent In A Texas Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuit
Assault is one of a small number of intentional (rather than negligent) torts. Because of this, intent is a key component to prevailing in a Texas civil sexual assault lawsuit. Intent will be found if the evidence shows that the perpetrator purposely touched the victim. The victim’s attorney will use witness testimony and other evidence to demonstrate that a perpetrator acted willfully or with reckless disregard for the victim’s person and dignity.
A sexual assault civil claim is more specific and is separate and distinct from a sexual harassment claim. Harassment refers to verbal statements and actions, whereas assault encompasses unwanted kissing, groping, and other similar physical actions.
Common Defenses In Sexual Assault
Sexual assault victims might face a defense that they consented to the action or contact. Texas law defines consent as “assent in fact, whether express or apparent.” However, courts will generally not allow a perpetrator to argue that a victim’s appearance, sexual history, or previous conduct amounted to apparent consent–but the line between apparent consent and lack of consent may be difficult to draw. An experienced Texas civil sexual assault lawyer from our firm will thoroughly investigate a case to anticipate and refute this and other defenses.
A consent defense will also fail in Texas if the victim is intoxicated or drugged. Under Texas law, persons cannot give consent to a sexual act if someone has given them any substances that impair their ability to make conscious and rational decisions or that render them unconscious.
Suppose the evidence supports your sexual assault cause of action. In that case, you may be entitled to recover economic and non-economic damages and punitive damages designed to punish the perpetrator’s unwanted conduct.
Statutes Of Limitations In Tx Sexual Assault Cases
Both criminal and civil actions are subject to statutes of limitations. Cases that are not initiated within the statute of limitations period are forever barred from going forward.
The criminal statute of limitations is complicated and depends heavily on the age of the victim and specifics of the alleged assault. It can range from 20 years to unlimited time.
The Texas statute of limitations for civil cases based on sexual assault is 30 years (beginning when the victim turns 18 if he or she was a minor at the time). Statutes of limitations are surprisingly complicated but very important, so if you were involved in a sexual assault, speak with a Dallas personal injury attorney to find out what filing deadline applies in your case.
What Is The Criminal Statute Of Limitations For Adult Victims?
Adult survivors have a limited amount of time to pursue criminal charges. For anyone over 18, this statute of limitations expires ten years from the date the event occurred. If the state fails to bring charges within those ten years, the government cannot prosecute the alleged perpetrator.
Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Child Victims?
Over the years, many states have toughened laws designed to penalize the sexual abuse of children. One of the ways Texas has approached this goal is by eliminating the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases. No matter how long it takes a victim to come forward and tell their story, the law allows the state to pursue prosecution.
This was not always the approach taken in these cases. For years, most states—including Texas—applied a statute of limitations for child victims. Over the years, advocates pushed to lengthen or eliminate these deadlines, given the difficulty of processing childhood sexual abuse. In 2019, Texas eliminated its statutory deadline for criminal cases.
Time Limits For Civil Cases
Criminal courts are not the only option for seeking justice for sexual abuse. However, there are limits on the time to file a civil lawsuit against your abuser. Unlike criminal cases, there is a statute of limitations that applies to minors. From a civilcourt perspective, Texas’s statute of limitations for cases involving a minor ranges from 10 to 20 years after the victim’s 18th birthday.
Benefits Of A Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuit
Criminal prosecution may put the perpetrator behind bars and create a criminal record of their actions. However, it does not necessarily benefit you personally; the prosecutor may enter a plea bargain to speed things along, and you will not have a say in how the case is concluded.
A civil lawsuit, on the other hand, provides an avenue to address the effects that the assault had on you as an individual. It can lead to an order for the defendant to pay for your medical bills, including therapy costs, lost wages, relocation, and even damages for pain and suffering.
Who May Be Civilly Liable For Sexual Assault
The person who committed the assault may not be the only party liable for the violation. For example, if the assault happened on someone else’s property or by a business’s on-duty employee, another person or business might be liable.
Some examples of third parties who have been ordered to pay compensation for an assault include:
- A temp agency that did not perform a complete background check on a new employee
- A caregiver who failed to prevent abuse
- An apartment complex lacking or prohibiting safety precautions
- A property owner with knowledge of other physical assaults that did not take measures to prevent further attacks
It is important to talk with a personal injury lawyer who can review the facts of your case with a trained eye. It is not always obvious who may be liable for an assault, but a skilled lawyer can make that determination.
What To Do After A Sexual Assault
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault in Texas, it is critical to go to a hospital as soon as possible for an exam by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). A SANE is a specially-trained nurse who can testify in court. It is not necessary to make a final decision about whether to pursue criminal charges or a civil lawsuit; you can obtain a SANE exam even without reporting the case, and it is important to do so.
At such a trying time, it helps to put your trust in a compassionate and experienced lawyer. The experienced sexual assault victim lawyers at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP, are caring and confident advocates committed to winning justice for survivors of sexual assault. Call today to schedule a free consultation.