In the United States, seeking a conviction for a sexual assault can be a difficult process. To successfully establish the perpetrator’s guilt, the prosecution will need to meet the burden of proof, or the legal duty to prove an alleged crime. There are several pieces of evidence that survivors can use to prove that an assault occurred.
The Burden of Proof in Sexual Assault Cases
To establish that a sexual assault occurred, the survivor and the prosecutor must meet the burden of proof. Burden of proof is a legal term that refers to a plaintiff’s duty to prove his or her assertion. In cases involving sexual assault, the burden of proof falls on the survivor.
Different states have different laws regarding burden of proof in sexual assault cases. However, the most common standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the prosecution must provide enough evidence to establish that the perpetrator committed the assault.
The jury must accept that they cannot derive any other logical explanation from the evidence that the prosecution presents. In simpler terms, this means that the jury must have no doubt that the perpetrator committed the assault in order to prosecute him or her.
Common Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases
To prove that a sexual assault occurred, survivors and investigators will need to collect multiple forms of evidence. Some of this evidence is physical, while other pieces are based on witness testimony or the perpetrator’s digital footprint. Common pieces of evidence in sexual assault cases include the following.
- DNA evidence: After a sexual assault, survivors should avoid showering, going to the bathroom, changing their clothes, or washing their hands. Doing so can destroy valuable DNA evidence, such as skin cells, loose hairs, bodily fluids, and fingerprints. These pieces of biological evidence can help establish that a perpetrator was present at the scene when the crime occurred and may prove that sexual contact occurred.
- Physical evidence from the crime scene: Clothing, bedding, and other physical items can provide valuable evidence following an assault. These items may contain biological evidence to establish that an assault occurred. The police may also collect shoe prints, tire tracks, and other marks around the scene. The investigators can use this evidence to corroborate the survivor’s story and prove that the perpetrator was present at the scene.
- Sketches and photographs: After the police learn about an assault, they will send forensic investigators to document the crime scene. These investigators will take photographs of the scene from as many angles as possible, which can help establish evidence in the courtroom. These investigators may also take sketches of the crime scene to establish spatial relationships and document key pieces of evidence to corroborate the survivor’s account.
- Digital evidence: To prove a sexual assault, digital evidence can be valuable. A perpetrator’s social media posts, for example, can establish that he or she was present at the scene of the crime on the day of the assault. In some cases, a perpetrator may post images or videos of the assault online, which prosecutors can use as evidence.
- Witness testimony: In some cases, witnesses either see an assault taking place or watch the events leading up to an assault, such as the perpetrator slipping a drug into the victim’s drink. Witnesses in sexual assault cases are often rare, and when they are available, their testimony can help establish the timeline of events and corroborate the survivor’s story.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you have the right to pursue criminal and civil cases against the perpetrator. While proving a criminal sexual assault case can be difficult, the standard of proof for civil cases is not as stringent. To learn more about your legal rights and options, contact a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible.