“[J]ustice comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. That’s why advocacy is so important—whether it be in the public arena or in the private. It allows victims and survivors to find peace and justice in their own way, at their own pace.”
– Chessy Prout, the author of I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope and a former client of an attorney at Sanford Heisler Sharp
Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Criminal/Sexual Violence Practice Group draws on more than 30 years of experience in crime victim advocacy to provide survivors of crimes, especially sexual violence with exceptional legal representation in their efforts to find some measure of justice. Victims of crime are often confronted with the pain of their experience coupled with a dizzying array of life-altering legal decisions, oftentimes with little or no guidance. Sanford Heisler Sharp can help guide you so that you do not have to go through the experience alone.
A crime victim’s rights may be vindicated through the criminal process. But, a crime victim can also seek justice by bringing a civil claim against the perpetrator or the institution responsible for allowing the crime to happen, regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings. Sanford Heisler Sharp distinguishes itself by partnering with leading advocacy organizations and advocating for clients in the criminal and civil court systems. The Firm understands that survivors’ rights are routinely violated in the criminal process in ways that harm their chances of bringing a civil lawsuit, because prosecutors represent the state—not the survivor. Sanford Heisler Sharp’s attorneys are knowledgeable and well-prepared to help survivors navigate both the criminal and civil justice systems, while working to ensure the survivor’s privacy is protected as much as possible during the legal process.
If you or a loved one was the victim of a crime, it is crucial to speak to an attorney as soon as possible because there are statutes of limitations, that vary by state, limiting the time in which you can bring a civil suit. In many states, the statutes of limitations for sexual abuse, especially child sexual abuse, are very long. Some states have opened “civil windows” allowing child sex abuse survivors to bring civil claims against their perpetrators and the institutions that shielded them, regardless of when the crime occurred. Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp can help you determine if your claim is still viable, even if the crime occurred long ago.
Criminal Advocacy for Victims
Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp have advocated in state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, for changes to 33 state constitutions and federal laws concerning the protection and standing of survivors in the criminal justice process. Our attorneys help ensure that a survivor’s individuals’ rights in the criminal justice process are respected, including, but not limited to:
- The right to be represented by an attorney—independent of the prosecutor—to protect the survivor’s rights and interests during the criminal process;
- The right to be protected from the perpetrator at all stages of the process;
- The right to privacy—including the right to remain anonymous, the right to avoid disclosure of personal information, and the right to remain free of harassment;
- The right to be informed of all significant events in the criminal process;
- The right to be heard in any proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, parole, or any proceeding in which a survivor’s right is implicated;
- The right to be consulted prior to the state’s entry of any plea agreement;
- The right to compensation from the perpetrator (called criminal “restitution”—which is a civil judgment imposed by the court as part of the perpetrator’s sentence); and,
- The right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Sanford Heisler Sharp works closely with national crime victim rights and advocacy organizations, including the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Crime Victim Law Institute, I Have the Right To, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Victim’s Rights Law Center.
Sanford Heisler Sharp’s goal is to prevent its clients from being revictimized while healing and seeking justice through the criminal justice process.
Civil Advocacy for Victims
Sanford Heisler Sharp has achieved landmark verdicts and settlements in civil cases. The Firm’s extraordinary results in part follow from its belief that every survivor has a potentially valuable civil claim despite the outcome of a survivor’s criminal proceeding against their perpetrator. Civil cases require less proof than criminal cases. This lower standard of proof offers survivors an opportunity to receive financial compensation for their suffering.
Sanford Heisler Sharp has successfully litigated cases concerning Title IX, rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, child abuse, premises liability, drunk driving, and crimes resulting from the wrongful service of alcohol.
All schools that receive federal funding have a duty under Title IX to:
- prevent sexual violence and harassment;
- investigate sexual violence and harassment that does occur and impose discipline on the perpetrator;
- offer survivors of violence and/or harassment adequate accommodations to ensure the survivor receives the full benefit of their education; and,
- protect the survivor from any form of retaliation by the school, the perpetrator or anyone else for reporting the violence and/or harassment to the school.
Survivors are entitled to seek money damages and a court order requiring the school to change its policies to comply with Title IX. You can find out more about Title IX here. Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp have achieved excellent results in a number of Title IX cases against Columbia University; Towson University; Old Dominion University; Morgan State University; Montgomery County, Maryland School Board; and, Prince George’s County, Maryland School Board.
Civil Claims Against The Criminal Perpetrator
Survivors of violence can file a civil lawsuit against their perpetrator(s), even if no criminal charges are brought or if the perpetrator was found not guilty of the crime in criminal court. The standard of proof for civil cases is much lower, as illustrated by the results of OJ Simpson’s cases. The assets of a perpetrator usually determine whether a survivor should pursue their civil claims. However, a survivor should contact one of the Firm’s attorneys to evaluate their options. Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp have brought suits against many perpetrators, including a major league baseball player accused of rape, a CEO who sexually assaulted a woman who did a training for his company, and a psychiatrist who sexually abused his patient.
Child Sexual Abuse
Any institution charged with the duty to protect minors can be held liable when an employee or volunteer has sexual contact with a child. Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp have vast experience litigating child abuse cases and have helped clients in their claims against the Catholic Church, Celebree, Old Dominion University, and St. Paul’s School.
Crimes at shopping centers, apartments, hotels, banks, ATMs, and other businesses are premises liability cases. Businesses, where the owner knows of a specific danger and fails to take sufficient steps to prevent it, can be held liable for sexual assault, physical assault, or wrongful death for acts committed by perpetrators without any connection to the business.
Many survivors of drunk driving accidents are not aware of their right to seek compensation directly from the perpetrator in their criminal cases or their right to receive compensation from the perpetrator’s insurance company and/or their insurance policy’s underinsured motorist (or “UIM”) coverage. Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp can advocate for survivors of drunk driving accidents to ensure they receive the maximum recovery from the perpetrator and all other sources.
Crimes resulting from the wrongful service of alcohol (or “Dram Shop” cases)
In most states, a bar owner or social host who “overserves” an intoxicated person or furnishes alcohol to a minor can be held liable for criminal acts committed by the offender (including sexual assault and drunk driving) or for criminal acts committed against the person to whom alcohol was wrongfully provided.
If you or a member of your family is a survivor of a violent crime or one of the crimes mentioned above, attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp encourage you to contact and discuss your potential legal claims with someone at the Firm today.