Civil vs. Criminal Molestation Burdens of Proof

In California, the burden of proof for child molestation cases differs between criminal and civil cases:

Criminal Cases:

The prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." This is a very high standard that requires the evidence to be so conclusive that there is no other reasonable explanation except the defendant's guilt .Presenting convincing evidence can be challenging, as medical evidence is available in less than 5% of reported child sexual abuse cases, and it often comes down to the child's testimony against the adult's. Beyond that, the stain of the accusation can be sufficient if it's even a close call. Solid investigation can make all the difference.

Civil Cases:

In civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse, the burden of proof is lower - by a "preponderance of the evidence." This means the jury must find that it is "more likely than not" (over 50% likely) that the abuse occurred. The survivor's family brings the suit against the perpetrator, represented by a personal injury attorney rather than a prosecutor. These cases are all about money damages and are rarely pursued unless the defendant has assets. The lower burden in civil cases allows survivors to potentially receive compensation and damages, even if criminal charges could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the high criminal standard exists to prevent wrongful convictions for such a serious offense.

In practical terms, the extremely negative impact of a charge can carry so much of a burden that many defendants simply give up and plead guilty. We have learned over the years that careful and thorough investigation can reveal weaknesses in the prosecution case, sometimes resulting in recantation of allegations by the complaining witness. It is important never to give up. Even if there is some responsibility on the part of the defendant, a solid mitigation package and psychological evaluation can have a significant impact on the outcome. You should discuss all of these issues with a qualified lawyer. William Weinberg, Irvine criminal defense attorney is available at (949) 474-8008 to answer any questions you may have and help you through a very difficult time.

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