Criminal Complaint Process
It’s important that if you want to file a criminal complaint, you do. When you make the decision, know that Victim Advocates are available to support you through the process of a police interview, the subsequent investigation, and possible prosecution.
First Response by Police
Generally, there are two circumstances under which a police officer would come to speak with you about an assault:
The officer arrives at your residence or wherever you are, in response to an emergency call. In this case, the officer’s first responsibility is to provide aid to you as a crime victim. This may mean driving you to the emergency room for medical treatment, or simply interviewing you there.
A second scenario is when an officer is called to the emergency room in response to a call from the medical staff. In this case, the initial interview will occur in a private room at the hospital with your consent.
The responding officer will sit with you and ask you detailed questions about what occurred, where, when, and how. It might be helpful to have a knowledgeable advocate sit with you to provide support through this process.
If an officer is called to the scene of the incident, that person must protect the crime scene, determine the type and circumstances of the crime committed, as well as identify potential suspects and witnesses. At the University of Connecticut, you may request a plain clothes officer if you wish, so the situation will be handled more discreetly. An officer may need to interview other witnesses, asking very specific questions about the crime. The officer will then collect evidence, and may document the crime scene.
After the police conduct interviews and gather evidence, they will prepare a report summarizing their investigation. If probable cause exists, the police will prepare an application for an arrest warrant. Both the report and application are then given to the State’s Attorney’s office. Physical evidence, including the sexual assault evidence collection kit (if you choose to have it completed), is sent to the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis.
Criminal Prosecution & Protective Orders
While the process of prosecuting someone in the U.S. criminal justice system can seem difficult to the victims of sexual assault, the experience has proven to be cathartic.
If the State’s Attorney decides that there is enough evidence, criminal charges are brought against the assailant and an arrest warrant is issued. If the location of the assailant is known, an arrest takes place, and a bond hearing is held the next business day. While the criminal case is pending, you can also request that the court issue a protective order prohibiting the assailant from being within a certain distance of you and contacting you and/or family members. Although the protective order will not prevent the assailant from contacting you or approaching you, if s/he does so, the police can arrest him/her for violating the protective order.
It may seem very impersonal, but from this point forward your role becomes solely that of “witness.” It is the State of Connecticut, as represented by the State’s Attorney, which brings charges against the assailant with your testimony serving as evidence. Your testimony is essential to successful prosecution, but you are only required to be in the courtroom during the time you testify. That is because while you are the victim, the crime is considered to be against the State.
After criminal charges are filed, a series of hearings and courtroom proceedings take place. While both the prosecuting and defense attorneys may request “continuances,” the amount of continuances granted to the prosecution is limited by the assailant’s constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. This constitutional limitation does not limit the amount of continuances granted to the defense because the defendant can waive his/her speedy trial right. This is why many trials stretch out to as long as one year or more. Trial will take place in the Superior Court of Connecticut and you will be questioned on the witness stand about the assault.
If the assailant is found guilty, you may file a Victim Impact Statement with the judge prior to sentencing. This allows you to tell the judge how the assault has affected you and your family, emotionally and economically. The sentencing portion of the trial is separate from the proceeding to determine guilt or innocence. In Connecticut, the judge (rather than a jury) determines the appropriate sentence for the assailant (with the exception of death penalty cases).
In all criminal prosecutions, a victim, as the State Legislature has defined by law, shall have the following rights:
- The right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to timely disposition of the case following arrest of the accused, provided no right of the accused is abridged;
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to notification of court proceedings;
- The right to attend the trial and all other court proceedings the accused has the right to attend, unless such person is to testify and the court determines that such person’s testimony would be materially affected if such person hears other testimony;
- The right to communicate with the prosecution;
- The right to object to or support any plea agreement entered into by the accused and the prosecution and to make a statement to the court prior to the acceptance by the court of the plea of guilty or nolo contendere by the accused;
- The right to make a statement to the court at sentencing;
- The right to restitution which shall be enforceable in the same manner as any other cause of action or as otherwise provided by law; and,
- The right to information about the arrest, conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the accused.
Filing a Lawsuit in Civil Court
A sexual assault is not only a crime against the state, but also a civil dispute between the victim and assailant. Civil cases seek financial compensation for physical, emotional and psychological harms done to the victim by the assailant. The standard of proof required to win a civil claim is proof by a fair preponderance of the evidence, which is a less rigorous standard than is required in a criminal case (proof beyond a reasonable doubt). As a victim, you have the option to file a civil lawsuit in court or negotiate a settlement out of court. You have this option regardless of the outcome of a criminal case. The decision to begin a civil lawsuit, or stop one in process, is entirely your own.