Taylor Swift – Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases

female-pop-star-singing-smMany of those who kept up with the recent Taylor Swift “groping” case may have wondered why, when Swift countersued DJ David Mueller for assault and battery, the case was filed as a civil case rather than a criminal case. When it comes to civil cases vs. criminal cases, the differences can be complicated, so the answer to the question is somewhat complex, but it may come down to an issue of celebrity. First the facts:

  • In 2013 at a meet-and-greet, Swift met Mueller (“Jackson” from the “Ryno and Jackson” show) for the first time. According to Swift, Mueller and his girlfriend, Shannon Melcher, had been drinking. The two asked for a photo with the star, at which time Swift says Mueller reached under her skirt and grabbed her bare butt.
  • That night, Swift told her mother about the groping incident.
  • Swift’s mother contacted the singer’s senior management team, including her radio promotions director, Frank Bell.
  • Mueller and his girlfriend, Shannon Melcher were subsequently removed from the venue, and Mueller’s bosses were informed of the allegations.
  • Swift performed her scheduled concert later that night.
  • Two days later, Mueller was released from his two-year contract at KYGO (where he earned $150,000 per year).
  • In 2015, still without a job, Mueller filed a lawsuit against Swift, her mother, and Frank Bell, claiming Swift tarnished his reputation and lost him his job.
  • At this point, Swift filed a civil countersuit, alleging sexual assault and battery, seeking only $1 in damages.

Swift says she did not choose to file a criminal complaint at the time, as she was attempting to keep the issue out of the press, believing it would follow her through all future interviews and make her a target for the press. A civil case generally means that one person has failed to carry out a legal duty they owed another person. The plaintiff in the case is asking the court to force the negligent party to fulfill that duty, which usually includes financial compensation for harm done.

Civil cases are filed for wrongful terminations, auto accidents in which one party was at fault, medical malpractice suits, and business disputes, to name just a few. In a civil case money is generally at stake, while in a criminal case, the person charged with the crime has much more at stake, namely his or her freedom (although there are also monetary penalties in a criminal case). Because Swift only asked for $1 in her civil countersuit, it is clear she was seeking to make a point, rather than asking that she be financially compensated for the incident—a luxury many other women might not have.

Further Reading: Understanding Probation in Colorado

When it came down to the wire, Taylor Swift’s name was actually removed from Mueller’s original complaint, since it was her mother and Frank Bell who actually contacted Mueller’s employers, not Swift herself. An eight-person civil jury unanimously agreed—after only four hours deliberation—that Mueller did grope Swift and that neither Swift’s mother nor Frank Bell intentionally interfered with Mueller’s KYGO contract. Of the jury’s finding that Mueller was guilty of assault and battery, Swift’s attorney said “That dollar is a single dollar and it is of immeasurable value in this ever-going fight for us to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong and…whose body is whose.”

Terre Rushton, former director of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, stated that while most people admired Swift’s gutsy responses on the witness stand, if the trial had been a criminal trial, Swift would have been forced to appear “overwhelmed” by Mueller.  Because this trial was a civil trial, Swift only had to convince a jury that the assault happened as it said she did, but she did not have to show how the incident had traumatized her. Because the vast majority of women in America would be hard-pressed to take on the burdens of a civil trial (the financial cost, the time, the attention), most of those women would be forced to file criminal charges instead if they wanted any kind of justice. Since the accused in a criminal trial faces prison, loss of reputation and perhaps a lifetime on a sex offender registry, the judge or jury are more likely to hinge their decision squarely on the credibility of the witness. In Swift’s case, the jury had a little more latitude to perhaps return a verdict that just felt right.

Contact Our Boulder Criminal Defense Lawyers

Boulder DUI Attorney Steven LouthIf you or someone you love is facing criminal charges, such as sexual assault and battery, it is important to know what is truly at stake. Your life, your freedom, and your reputation may be irreparably damaged if you are convicted of a crime. As such, you need an experienced and aggressive Boulder criminal defense lawyer on your side from the very start. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.

Case timeline by TrialLine

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Posted in Blog, Boulder Criminal Defense Attorney, Criminal Cases, Sex Crimes


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