Sexual assault cases are highly specialized, and few Georgia attorneys have the unique knowledge and experience to effectively represent sexual assault victims. For Hoffspiegel Law, protecting victims of sexual abuse is a mission that extends beyond legal practice. Lloyd Hoffspiegel is a past President of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH). This background provides Mr. Hoffspiegel with unique insight into both the legal and personal aspects of a sexual assault case—in particular, the challenges a victim faces when making the courageous decision to confront his or her abuser.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse in Georgia?
Under Georgia law, sexual abuse includes child molestation, assault, battery, rape, date rape, improper touching of any kind, and abuse of power by someone in a supervisory authority. While we assist victims of all types of sexual abuse, most of our cases in this arena involve people in a position of power preying on those who are least able to defend themselves. Our cases commonly involve:
- Youth Ministers / Clergy
- Family Members
Criminal Vs. Civil Sexual Assault Cases in Atlanta, Georgia
In general, a criminal case is about punishing and deterring, while a civil case focuses on compensation. The penalties imposed, including monetary fines or incarceration, can be different, depending on whether the case is pursued in civil or criminal court.
What Defines a Criminal Sexual Assault Case in Atlanta, Georgia
If you were sexually assaulted, the assailant has committed a crime and therefore, they should be prosecuted. However, the purpose of a criminal trial is different from that of a civil trial, as is the applicable burden of proof. While restitution is ordered in some criminal cases, the key goals of a criminal prosecution are to punish the defendant and to protect society, not to compensate individual victims.
In a criminal sexual assault case, it is considered that a person has committed a crime against the state, and a prosecutor has the authority to charge the assailant and initiate legal proceedings. If the court finds the defendant guilty, they may face imprisonment and/or other penalties. In criminal proceedings, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.
What Defines a Civil Sexual Assault Case in Atlanta, Georgia
In a civil claim, a person files a lawsuit against another person in order to seek compensation for the violation of their rights. The person initiating the legal action is referred to as the plaintiff, while the individual being sued is known as the defendant. As opposed to a criminal case where a prosecutor is responsible to establish the defendant’s guilt, in a civil suit, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant is legally responsible for the damages incurred. In this instance, the plaintiff usually appoints the service of a sexual assault lawyer for legal representation and counsel.
It is also important to note here, that in a civil suit for sexual assault, you can bring the claim against the defendant’s employer. By proving that the defendant’s employer was negligent with screening their employee, failed to monitor their conduct, or even worse, knew about their misconduct and chose to look the other way, you may be able to hold them responsible for your physical injuries and psychological damage and pursue compensation.
Every year, large institutions like the Catholic Church or other churches, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and universities are required to pay millions of dollars in damages to victims of sexual assault. Bringing a claim against an abuser and involving the institution they are affiliated with as well, leads to complex liability issues. That’s why working with an experienced Atlanta sexual assault attorney is of the essence. They have all the knowledge, experience, and resources to deal with such cases, and can help you secure the highest possible compensation.
You Can File a Sexual Assault Claim Even if Your Abuser Was Acquitted at a Criminal Trial
In Georgia, any criminal prosecution (or lack thereof) does not impact your right to pursue a civil suit. You are free to file a civil sexual assault claim whether:
- You opted not to prosecute;
- The District Attorney declined to prosecute;
- Your abuser was acquitted of criminal charges at a criminal trial; or
- Your abuser has been convicted of sexual assault.
Criminal prosecution of sexual assault claims can be difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that victims are in a vulnerable position, may feel responsible for or embarrassed about the abuse, or may be deterred from making a police report due to fear of the abuser. In addition, a prosecutor may decline to file a case because the burden of proof is high in a criminal case, and the state’s caseload is often demanding.
When you work with a private Atlanta sexual assault attorney who thoroughly understands sexual assault issues, the process can be much less intimidating. You’ll have an advocate at your side to help you through the process, and your civil attorney will face a less-stringent burden of proof than in a criminal case, making it easier to prove your case.
The Civil Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Georgia
As we’ve mentioned above, whether or not your abuser was prosecuted for criminal charges, you can still file a civil case. By means of a civil lawsuit, you can pursue compensation including economic and non-economic damages.
By Georgia law, you have a two-year timeframe starting from the assault date to submit a personal injury claim for compensation. However, if the defendant could have faced criminal prosecution or has already undergone prosecution, you have two years from the conclusion of the criminal proceedings or six years from the assault date, whichever is shorter, to file your claim.
The Georgia statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is different. Until recently, abuse victims under the age of 18 in Georgia were obligated to initiate legal action before reaching the age of 23. However, in 2015, Georgia enacted the Hidden Predator Act, which extended the age limit for filing a civil claim regarding child sexual abuse from 23 to 53. Consequently, for cases of abuse occurring after July 1, 2015, individuals have until their 53rd birthday to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser.
Investigating Your Sexual Assault Case
A successful prosecution for a sex crime requires assembling adequate evidence to prove your case to a judge or jury. Gathering this evidence can be difficult for a number of reasons. Medical and other physical evidence may not have been collected at the time of the sexual contact. Witnesses may be reluctant to get involved or unclear in their accounts.
The Atlanta sexual assault lawyers Lloyd and Alexander Hoffspiegel have the experience necessary to thoroughly assess your case, determine the likelihood of success at trial, and assemble the most effective evidence available.
Evidence in Sexual Abuse Cases
Some key evidence in sexual abuse cases includes:
- Physical evidence, including medical evidence
- Witness testimony, including witnesses to an admission by the perpetrator
- Statements the perpetrator made to police or others
- Mental health records supporting the claim of abuse
- Prior history on the part of the abuser
While corroborating evidence such as that described above is important in a sexual abuse case, the victim’s testimony is often the most compelling evidence offered. We understand that testifying about such matters can be difficult and intimidating, and have helped to empower many victims to tell their stories in the courtroom and assert their rights.
Collecting a Judgment in a Sexual Assault Case
One challenge associated with sex crime cases, and an issue that deters some law firms from representing victims of sexual abuse, is that the acts giving rise to the claim fall outside most insurance policies. Collecting a judgment against an individual without insurance coverage can be difficult, particularly if the abuser is incarcerated.
Our extensive experience with sexual abuse claims often allows us to avoid insurance policy exclusions and find coverage to compensate the victim.
Work with the Right Atlanta Sexual Assault Attorney
Sexual assault claims may be more complicated and nuanced than the typical personal injury case, and there are important emotional and psychological issues in play. Not just any attorney can do justice to your case, nor assist you through the difficult process of fighting back.
At Hoffspiegel Law, we are committed to helping victims of sexual abuse and have made the investment necessary to fully prepare to do your case justice. Call our law firm at (404) 760-8600 to schedule a free consultation, or click the Contact Us button to learn more about how we can help you take back control.