Sex crimes are any specifically defined crimes relating to sexual acts or sexual behaviors that can be prosecuted by state courts. In more severe or aggravated cases, these sex crimes can also be prosecuted by federal courts. These types of cases are known as federal sex crimes.

Federal sex crimes are considered some of the most serious offenses in the U.S., and as such, their punishments are severe and often explicitly spelled out by federal laws. If you are formally accused and charged with a federal sex crime, you must seek immediate professional legal counsel in order to defend against these charges.

At Sex Crimes Attorney, we are a nationwide team of experienced lawyers and legal professionals. We specialize in criminal defense cases. We defend cases at both the federal and state levels, so we are keenly familiar with the various state laws that can come into play during sex crime cases.

We put together the information below in order to provide a brief overview of federal sex crimes: what they are, how courts treat them, and the potential punishment and defenses for them. This information is not intended as legal advice; only a professional legal team with specific knowledge of your case can provide such counsel.

Sex crimes in federal and state courts

Both state and federal courts can try (prosecute) criminal defendants for alleged sex crimes. If the case is a local one, a state court will prosecute it. If the case is a federal one, a federal court will prosecute it.

In general, sex crimes are prosecuted at the state level unless the crime occurs in a geographic location and/or if the crime is severe (aggravated) enough to trigger federal criminal laws. In the case of a federal sex crime, the state likely can also pursue prosecuting a criminal defendant pursuant to that state’s specific crimes, as the defendant may have broken both state and federal laws in committing the crime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a defendant’s freedom from double jeopardy is not violated in the situation of a single sexual conviction at both the state and local levels.

An offense that is committed that goes against U.S. legislation or federal law is prosecuted in a federal court. In some situations, the case may be a state crime but additional specifications are incorporated which make it a federal crime.

Sex crimes are elevated from state crime to federal crimes often due to the severity of the crime or specific aspects of the crime.

Types of federal sex crimes

Federal sex crimes can include a range of offenses, as defined by the United States Code, Title 18. This section covers many types of crimes, with specific chapters dedicated to federal sex crimes.

Most sex crimes that involve children are prosecuted at the federal level. Sex crimes involving a child are often punished the most severely. Note that a child and minor are not always the same legal definition. A minor is often defined as any person under the age of 18 years, but in certain cases, the age may actually be under 16 years.

Sex crimes related to minors can include any of the following:

  • Child sexual assault and rape
  • Exploitation of a child in a sexual manner, which includes but is not limited to the following situations:
    • Any person who uses, coerces, bribes, or otherwise entices a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the intent of depicting the minor in a sexual manner in such a way that can be transmitted to other viewers, such as photographs, via live internet, etc.
    • Any parent, legal guardian, or person with custody or authority of a minor who permits a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct with the goal of creating sexual depictions
    • Any parent, legal guardian, or person with custody or authority of a minor who assists another individual in engaging a minor in sexually explicit activities with the goal of depicting the event for sexual purposes
  • Sexual abuse of a minor or ward
  • Purchase or sale of a child for sexual purposes
  • Possession or distribution of child pornography, which is defined as materials which depict the sexual exploitation of minors, including books, magazines, videos, films, etc.
    • This can include sharing actual or digital material, as well as sexting (sexually explicit text messaging) and transmitting information about a minor to other adults

Additional sex crimes are elevated to the federal level when they are aggravated, such as in the following cases:

  • Aggravated sexual abuse, which includes the following:
    • Using force, fear, or threats of bodily injury, kidnapping, and death to coerce the victim to engage in an otherwise undesired sexual act
    • Using other means such as illicitly providing drugs to an unknowing victim in order to render the victim unconscious for a sexual act
  • Human trafficking, which U.S. law defines as using force, fraud, or coercion in the acts of recruiting, transportation, harboring, providing, or otherwise obtaining any person for forced labor or commercial sex acts
  • Sexual abuse that results in death
  • Sexual crimes that are not limited to a single U.S. state, which can include the following:
    • Traveling to another state with the intent of engaging in a sexual crime
    • Buying or selling illicit sexual material, such as child pornography, across state lines
  • Sexual crimes that occur on federal land or territory, such as military bases, American Indian land, and federal prisons, institutions, and other facilities
  • An offender with more than one offense

Punishment of federal sex crimes

Conviction of any federal crime, whether sex crime or otherwise, often requires mandatory minimum sentencing, along with potential other penalties such as fines. The more severe, pre-meditated, sadistic the crime, the more severely it can be punished. Several federal laws require imprisonment up to a life sentence when a sex crime results in the death of a person.

Once the offender has completed his or her prison sentence, the offender likely enters a period of probation or parole, wherein he or she is not imprisoned but must abide by specific rules and meet regularly with a court official.

If you are have had previous convictions, particularly of this serious nature, it is very likely that your sentencing and terms of imprisonment will be longer and more severe than the minimums spelled out in the laws that govern your situation.

Punishing child sex crimes

The law is especially severe when it comes to punishing federal sex crimes that involve children, even if those sex crimes seem smaller.

Some laws explicitly state how long a convicted criminal must be imprisoned, sometimes for a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years, as in the case of a conviction of sexual exploitation of children.

This sentencing can be increased if the offender has prior criminal convictions or took part or attempted to take part in aggravated sexual abuse. Sentencing can easily reach a life conviction, as mandated by law, if such sex crimes involve the death of a person.

The national sex registry

Beyond imprisonment, fines, and other penalties the federal court may mandate, federal sentences for convicted sex offenders typically require that the offender comply with the national sex offender registration. Any state(s) involved can also mandate the offender comply with the state sex offender registry, which syncs with the national registry.

The 2006 federal adoption of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification ACT (SONRA) initiated a way to track and monitor sex offenders throughout the U.S., including Washington D.C. and federally recognized tribal lands for Native Americans. Prior to SONRA, state registers were kept separate. Now, registers are linked and updated to the appropriate law enforcement agencies on a case by case basis.

The national sex registry is officially known as the National Sex Offender Registration and Notification System. Convicted sex offenders must register with the database and include pertinent information including:

  • Location of residence
  • School attendance data
  • Employment status data
  • Other personal details

An individual convicted of a federal sex crime will also be categorized into one of three Tiers, which indicates the severity of your sex offense and how long you are required to maintain current registration with the national sex registry, which is as follows unless a specific sentencing states otherwise:

  • Tier I sex offenders must keep current registrations for 15 years
  • Tier II sex offenders must keep current registrations for 25 years
  • Tier III sex offenders must to keep current registrations for their lifetime

Importantly, the sex offender registry can also require you to reside within or away from specific places of residence and where you can or cannot be outside, such as in proximity to a school or a public park.

The national sex registry can be controversial. Proponents of the system say that they are able to protect the children in their families, schools, and communities thanks to this knowledge. Opponents, on the other hand, point out that a less severe sex crime that may indicate a one-time failure on behalf of the offender can still require sex offender registration, which can have a significant negative impact on the life of the offender in terms of his or her ability to work or maintain a residence.

Common defense against federal sex crimes

If you are already charged with or suspect you are going to be charged with a federal sex crime, know that you have options. A strong defense is your best option for avoiding a felony conviction because federal courts are often ready for harsh punishment.

Your attorney should be experienced with federal criminal charges in general and, more particularly, federal sex crimes. If possible, consult with several attorneys and legal teams to find the best option for your case. You must be honest and entirely open with your defense team to ensure they can provide the best outcome for your situation. Only by sharing all your experience and knowledge can they aim to clear you of the charges.

A good defense team will consider a range of defense strategies, which may include the following:

  1. Claiming innocence. If you are innocent, this may be your best defense. Even if you believe it is impossible to prove your innocence, a good federal defense attorney may be able to sow enough doubt in the courtroom, such that the court is unable to deem you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  2. Claiming entrapment. Depending on the charges against you, entrapment may come into play. Entrapment is the legal concept that an offender committed a crime only because another party (the victim, law enforcement, etc.) tricked, baited, pressured, or otherwise coerced the individual into doing so. Entrapment can apply to certain federal sex crimes such as transmitting data about a minor to others and transporting or attempting to transport a minor across state or international boundaries.
  3. Claiming consent. Again, dependent on the actual charge against you, your defense lawyer may be able to show that the alleged victim had indicated consent to the actions. This can work in certain cases by undermining the credibility of the defendant.
  4. Claiming mental incapacity or insanity. Your defense attorney may explore the possibility that you were permanently or temporarily insane or unable to make sound decisions at the time of the incident.

Remember that the burden of proof always lies with the prosecution, meaning they must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty.

An accusation of sex crimes is a serious matter and not one that should be taken lightly. While it can be very confusing to navigate this territory, understand that your way of life and your personal freedoms, such as your opportunity to work and reside where you’d like, are at risk with such federal sex crime charges. Seek professional experience and consult with a range of experts in your specific field to ensure your defense is the right fit for you.

Sex Crimes Attorney is a national team of criminal defense lawyers and legal professionals. We work with clients across the U.S. and defend their cases in federal and state courts. Contact Sex Crimes Attorney today at 888-666-8480 to get started with our experienced legal defense team.