Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
If you or a loved one was harmed in any way by intentional acts of violence or sexual abuse, your first instinct might be to want to press charges. The phrase “press charges” is often used in TV shows and popular culture, but “pressing charges” in an actual, legal sense does not always work the way people think it does, and pressing charges for sexual abuse of a minor might not be as straightforward as you might hope.
Technically, the government is the one to “press charges” when a crime occurs. It is the government, usually through a DA or prosecutor, that files criminal charges with the court and formally charges an individual with a crime. However, as the victim or the parent of a victim of sexual abuse of a minor, you might have options to ask them to press charges or to file your own civil case against the abuser.
For help with your case, call The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s sexual abuse attorneys for a free case review at (814) 826-3586.
How Criminal Charges Are Filed for Sexual Abuse of a Minor
The phrase “pressing charges” usually refers to a private citizen asking the government to arrest an accused criminal and file formal criminal charges against them. In TV shows and movies, the phrase is often angrily used by someone who has just been the victim of assault or some other crime telling the police or another government official that they want to press charges for what happened to them. In reality, the process of filing criminal charges is usually a bit different, and it can vary from state to state as to specifics.
Reporting a Crime
Anyone can report a crime at any time, even years after the events occurred. To report a crime, you simply can call 911 and report it to the police, but that should be reserved for emergency situations. If you want to report a crime after the danger has passed, police departments often have a “non-emergency” phone number, or you can go in in person to the police department.
Once the police receive a report of a crime, they will investigate and, if they think there is sufficient evidence to charge the accused abuser, they will arrest them and proceed with criminal charges.
Crimes can also be reported straight to a prosecutor. A prosecutor is an attorney for the government who brings criminal charges in court. Many places call their prosecutors district attorneys (DAs), but a lot of times, “the District Attorney” is the head prosecutor for the area (often an elected official), and “assistant district attorneys” (ADAs) are the ones to handle prosecutions. Some areas use other names such as “state attorneys” or simply “prosecutors.”
When you bring a complaint about a crime straight to a prosecutor, they can initiate charges the same way a police officer can, and they will often involve the police to investigate.
When reporting a sexual abuse crime, work with a sexual abuse lawyer to protect your rights and keep you involved in the case, as police and prosecutors often overlook the victim’s rights in these cases and make decisions about charges, bail, and pleas without consulting the victim. Approaching the police or prosecutors with a lawyer can also show how serious you are about seeking justice for what happened.
When police or prosecutors are alerted to a crime, they cannot simply charge the defendant and move along. They need to build evidence to support the allegations before they can properly charge someone with a crime. This means investigating the allegations with the full force of the law behind them.
During police investigations for sexual abuse of a minor, they will often seize evidence and records, interview witnesses and potential victims, and try to get to the bottom of the facts of what happened and whether the accused or any other participants are responsible.
Once there is sufficient evidence to charge the accuser, they will do so. However, the choice of whether to move forward in charging someone is the government’s decision. They will usually consult with victims, but the ultimate decision of whether or not to “press charges” in criminal court is left with the prosecutor’s office.
The process for formally charging someone with a crime depends on the state’s specific rules and the level of crime. In the context of felonies (crimes with over a year of potential prison time), this process is often called an “indictment.”
For crimes classified as a misdemeanor – which usually have less than a year in jail as the final sentence – charges can usually be filed as soon as the police and prosecutors believe there is “probable cause” that they committed the crime. Some states allow preliminary hearings to ensure there is probable cause before the case moves on to trial.
For crimes classified as felonies, many states require a grand jury to indict the abuser. This means that a jury assembled at the courthouse will be presented with evidence of what happened and asked whether they think there is probable cause to bring the charges. This often requires testimony and evidence to show the jury that a crime was likely committed.
If the jury votes to indict, the charges are formalized against the defendant, and the case moves on. Sometimes there is a preliminary hearing again, and some states allow the grand jury indictment to be skipped altogether in favor of preliminary hearings for probable cause in felony cases.
After a formal indictment (or proof of probable cause for misdemeanors), the case will move forward to trial.
Bringing Your Own Civil Case for Sexual Abuse of a Minor
You might have noticed that throughout this process, the only way that the victim is involved is in their reporting and as a potential witness. Once they report the crime, it is up to the government (and potentially a grand jury) whether they charge the crime or not, based on the evidence they have. However, you can often pursue a separate civil case against the defendant.
In a civil case, you are in control: you are the plaintiff, and you make the decision of when to bring the case, what to accuse them of, and when to settle or go to trial. This case can also pay you damages, whereas a criminal case merely seeks punishment for the defendant, not compensation for the victim.
Call Our Sexual Abuse Victim Lawyers Today
For a free case review with our sexual abuse victim lawyers, contact The Law Office of Andrew Shubin today at (814) 826-3586.