Deshaun Watson, a quarterback for the Houston Texans, is currently facing accusations from 22 women who claim sexual misconduct and assault. Of the 22 suits, 18 of the women claim that Watson touched them inappropriately.
The most recent woman to come forward claims that Watson grabbed her behind, touched his genitalia to her hand and then claimed that she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in order to be paid.
Currently, Watson is being tried only in civil court. This means that if he loses any of his civil lawsuits—or the cases get settled—he will only face compensating the plaintiffs in the lawsuits—not jail time or any criminal penalties. Being tried in civil court doesn’t mean that he couldn’t face criminal charges in the future, nor does it mean that he wouldn’t potentially face prison time in those instances.
Watson continues to maintain that he is innocent of all charges. Additionally, he has also rejected paying the plaintiffs a 6-figure settlement.
Differences between civil and criminal cases
In a civil lawsuit, one person (the plaintiff) is trying to prove that another person (the defendant) is legally responsible for damages, harm, personal injury or a wrongful act. If the court system can establish liability, financial compensation is possible for the plaintiff.
Civil lawsuits are often resolved through attorney negotiations and most are settled out of court. Typically, a settlement involves the defendant providing the plaintiff with a sum of money to drop the lawsuit. In civil cases, the plaintiff has the right to drop the claim if they’re satisfied with the negotiations.
In comparison, the “plaintiff” in criminal cases doesn’t have this ability to drop a charge—only the government prosecutor trying the case can drop a criminal lawsuit.
In this case, the state of Texas would be responsible for state laws and any crimes that have been committed. The punishments in criminal cases can include fines paid to the state as well as jail time.
Why the differences in civil and criminal cases matter
Criminal and civil lawsuits also differ in the burden of proof required to find a defendant guilty.
For civil cases, prosecutors don’t have as heavy a burden of proof. A plaintiff’s attorney generally only needs to prove someone is liable through a “preponderance of evidence” or by “clear and convincing standards.”
However, in criminal cases, prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a harder standard to prove.
This important difference gives civil cases more flexibility in the ways to reach a resolution.
The differences in civil and criminal courts mean that you can be sued in civil court for sexual assault or rape, but that doesn’t automatically result in criminal charges for the crime. Likewise, defendants can lose in civil court, pay the plaintiff and then be found not guilty of criminal charges since criminal cases have a higher burden of proof than civil cases. This is the situation that played out in the case of OJ Simpson.
The U.S. court system upholds the right to due process and that those facing trial are innocent until proven guilty—regardless of whether they’re facing a civil or a criminal case.