More than 23 million Americans are victimized by crime each year. Most of us are familiar with the criminal justice system. And many crime victims learn about the system after their lives have been touched by crime. But most people are not familiar with civil justice for crime victims.
Civil justice for crime victims includes the right to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation from the perpetrator or from other parties whose unreasonable conduct created situations that allowed the crime to occur. Oklahoma’s time limits for filing such cases can be very short, however, so crime victims need to be connected to someone who can explain the civil system as quickly as possible.
While Oklahoma sometimes provides for criminal restitution – money an offender has to pay to a victim following a conviction – this only pays for out-of-pocket losses like medical bills. Civil justice for crime victims may provide more complete compensation to a victim in addition to restitution. Civil actions can compensate crime victims for out-of-pocket losses and the emotional damage they have suffered.
In addition to a wider range of compensation, victims in the civil system have more control. Because they are a party to the case, victims have a say in settlement decisions and the right to participate in all aspects of the case. Victims can, if they choose, have their day in court.
Because both of our legal systems were designed by the founders of our country to work together, victims benefit from both systems.
The criminal system is one of punishment. The crime is considered to be against the people of the state and the determination is supposed to be whether the perpetrator needs to be jailed for the protection of the rest of society. Victims are witnesses, not parties, and are often seen as incidental. The civil system does not determine guilt or innocence. It is used to determine whether a perpetrator or third party is liable for injuries sustained due to crime. The victim is a pivotal actor. The civil justice system holds defendants liable directly to the victim.
Because the victim is central to the civil case, the victim’s involvement is usually key. The victim has the ability to collect information to help tell their story. The process of pursing a civil case can be very enlightening to a victim as information is also often acquired from third parties. Behind-the-scene decisions can be brought into the open. Prevention of future crime is sometimes a side benefit of this process.
One of the most significant differences in the two systems is the level of proof required. A criminal case must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The level of proof for a civil case is much lower. The victim must show that their allegations are more probably true than not true. Since there are different standards, there can be different outcomes – a “not guilty” in criminal court or no criminal charges at all does not prevent a civil lawsuit.
Time limits between the two types of cases also vary. Generally, the civil case has a much shorter “statute of limitations” – the time period in which a case may be brought. Perpetrators must be charged within a crime within a specified time, but that limit is often far longer than the civil case.
While designed together, the two systems function independently. Thus, whether or not the police investigated a crime, whether or not a criminal charge was brought, and whether or not there was a conviction, the crime victim should also consult with a civil lawyer to learn about civil justice for crime victims.
If you have questions, contact Koller Trial Law. As always, our initial consultation is free.
Every employee of Koller Trial Law is trauma-informed and understands the need for extreme confidentiality.