If you are accused of sexual assault, it is imperative for you to act quickly with strong guidance. Consult with one or more defense lawyers who are experts in sexual assault cases, and partner with the lawyer who is best suited for you and your case.

At Sex Crimes Attorney, we work with clients nationwide who are accused of sexual assault at both the federal and state levels. We understand the various laws that govern sexual assault, depending on the governing jurisdiction.

We put the information below together as a guide to sexual assault and common defenses an experienced lawyer may seek in such a case. This guide is informationally only and not intended as legal counsel. Only a legal team with professional experience and full knowledge of your specific case can provide legal advice regarding the defense of your sexual assault case.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault can be a confusing term: sometimes it seems that it covers all sex crimes, from less serious to the most severe, and other times it seems to refer to a specific situation. Sexual assault is

The definition of sexual assault can vary from state to state and at the federal level, but the general understanding of sexual assault is the unwanted or offensive sexual touching from one person towards another person.

Depending on the governing law, sexual assault can include:

  • Sexual contact, such as groping or fondling, which can occur through direct skin contact or over one or both party’s clothing or other material.
  • Assault or battery, which involves an individual attempting or actually physically striking the victim or acting threateningly or explicitly threatening the victim in order to instill fear.
  • Attempted rape

Note that more severe battery, such as threatening death, kidnapping, or serious bodily harm, as well as actual rape typically are prohibited by a separate crime: aggravated sexual assault. Additional situations wherein sexual groping or fondling occurs but the victim is a minor or otherwise unable to provide consent may also fall under other types of state or federal sex crimes.

How is it Different from Other Sex Crimes?

Sex crimes are often defined by whether the crime was attempted or actually occurred, the severity of the crime, and the timing of the crime, such as whether it was a one-time occurrence or something that happened repeatedly.

Should these situations become more severe, such as actually raping the victim or causing severe bodily injury to the victim, it is likely that the crime pursued will be more severe, such as rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual abuse, etc.

Sexual assault can also be either a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge. Those charged with a felony crime are typically subject to more severe punishments. More severe or aggravated sex crimes are automatically deemed felonies.

Is Sexual Assault a State Crime or Federal Crime?

All 50 states and federal law prohibit sexual assault. States often handle sexual assault cases that meet their own established laws, and more severe cases can trigger federal sex crimes laws, which include some of the harshest punishments associated with a conviction.

Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be tried for the same crime at both the state and federal levels. If your crime violates some federal laws prohibiting sexual assault, you likely violated additional state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that both courts can try and judge the same case for different violations and punish those violations in accordance with their laws. This is not double jeopardy.

A Charge of Sexual Assault

If you are being charged formally with sexual assault, remember that a charge does not mean a conviction. You have the right to a fair trial. Only once allegations are proved beyond a reasonable doubt may you actually be convicted of the crime.

Sexual Assault as a Federal Sex Crime

Federal sex law defines sexual assault as any sexual contact or behavior that one individuals performs without the explicit consent of the other individual. The following actions are included in this definition:

  • Sexual fondling
  • Forced sexual intercourse
  • Forced sodomy
  • Attempted rape
  • Child molestation
  • Incest

Punishment for sexual assault at the federal level can range from fines to imprisonment. A conviction also means you will likely be required to join the national sex offenders’ registry. This is a nationwide database that tracks those who have been convicted of sex crimes.

Registration can have a severe impact – it can affect your ability to maintain a place of residence and where and it can jeopardize employment, both current jobs and future jobs. Depending where you reside, a person on the national sex registry may also be restricted from visiting public parks or living or traveling within a certain distance of schools.

Sexual Assault in California

California’s Penal Code defines sexual assault in less severe terms compared to the federal sex laws. The law that specifically addresses it is Section 243.4. This prohibits an individual from touching another individual’s intimate parts in an unwanted manner, as in without consent. The law specifies that intimate parts include sexual organs (penis, vulva, etc.), anus, groin, buttocks of any person, and breasts on females.

The crime of sexual assault can also be known as sexual battery.

Proving Sexual Assault

If you are charged with sexual assault in California, you case will go in front of a judge. It is the duty of the prosecution (the lawyer representing the alleged victim) to prove the following elements:

  • The defendant touched the victim against the victim’s will. This means that the prosecuting attorney must prove that the victim did not consent to the action.
  • The defendant touched the victim’s intimate parts while the defendant, or another party, restrained the victim. This means that the victim was somehow restrained, though the touching of the victim’s intimate parts can occur via direct contact, as in the skin of the victim, or via indirect contact, as in through the clothing of the victim.
  • The defendant touched the victim in an unwanted manner in order to obtain sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse. This means that if the touching that occurred was intended in a non-sexual manner, such as in a medically professional manner, the prosecution will have a more difficult time obtaining a conviction for the crime.

Punishment for a Sexual Assault Crime

If you are convicted of the crime of sexual assault by the State of California, you will be punished in accordance with the law. The judge of your case will determine your punishment. Possible penalties depend on whether your conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony crime.

In a conviction of misdemeanor sexual assault or battery, you may be punished with imprisonment of up to six months in county jail, a fine with a maximum of $2,000, or both. The monetary fine can increase to a maximum of $3,000 if you employ the victim.

In a conviction of felony sexual assault or battery, a range of punishments are possible, including imprisonment for up to four years and a fine with a maximum of $10,000.

Common Defenses in Sexual Assault Charges

A good lawyer will explore many paths in your defense of a sexual assault charge. Importantly, your defense should consider whether the charges against you are felony charges or misdemeanor charges, which could be possible with a case in California.

Here are some common defenses:

Consent

Your lawyer may opt for arguing consent as your defense argument. Because the prosecuting attorney must prove that the victim did not consent to the alleged actions, your defense lawyer can cast additional doubt by suggesting that alleged sexual contact of this nature did not actually violate the will or consent of the victim.

Consent can be a tricky defense, as proving something that may not have direct evidence (such as physical or tangible evidence) may be seen as circumstantial, which can weaken the prosecution.

Consent can also be complicated by a discussion of either the defendant or the victim’s past history regarding crimes. If you have been convicted of other serious crimes, particularly sex crimes, your argument that consent was given may present further issues. If the defense attempts to slander the alleged victim with previous sexual situations, the judge or jury may not respond well to this.

Importantly, consent cannot be used if the alleged victim is a child or an individual lacking the mental or physical capacity to provide consent.

Victim Motivation

A defense lawyer may seek to discredit the alleged victim, your accuser, by uncovering situations that may obstruct the truth and therefore the course of justice.

For instance, your accuser may be telling part or none of the truth in order to hide his or her own consent. Or, if you and your accuser know each other, your accuser may be seeking revenge against you for something that is unrelated to the alleged crime. Perhaps your case is not the first time the accuser has made similar claims against others that were eventually found unsubstantiated.

A more extreme situation is that your accuser is being coerced or influenced by a third party in order to make this accusation against you.

Pleading Innocent

An experienced defense lawyer can help you decide whether to plead innocent. Pleading innocent may involve proving that you did nothing to warrant the allegations, admitting that you engaged in some inappropriate behavior, but that it doesn’t meet the definitions of the crime you are charged with, or another situation. Pleading innocent can be difficult unless you are able to indicate reasons why the alleged victim may seek such allegations against you.

Insanity

A lawyer who opts for this defense will understand how complicated this can be: showing that the alleged offender was insane, either permanently or temporarily, at the time of the alleged sexual offense. Importantly, the law for insanity can vary across jurisdictions and it is the jurisdiction’s definition of insanity that applies in the case, instead of the medical definition of mental insanity.

In order to prove insanity, your defense lawyer will likely require you to see a specialist who can provide a mental evaluation, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. This professional may then be called upon during your defense in court in order to sway the judge, but the medical professional can only provide a medical diagnosis and cannot provide confirmation that you, as the defendant, were legally insane as per legal definitions.

If your lawyer is successful in securing a guilty verdict by way of insanity, your punishment is likely altered so that you would not face imprisonment but instead may have to undergo some psychiatric treatment, perhaps at a hospital or in-patient facility, until such time you are determined no longer threatening to society.

If your lawyer is successful in securing a verdict of innocence, perhaps due to temporary insanity, you will not face any punishment.

Still, insanity is a difficult defense for any legal team, no matter how professionally successful, to mount.

Onus of Proof

Another angle your defense lawyer may take is to promote doubt. The onus of proof lies with the prosecuting attorney, not the defense, which means the prosecution team must prove particular parts of the case – beyond a reasonable doubt – in order to win a conviction. Your defense lawyer may be able to question the prosecution in such a way that doubts whether the so-called proof is true.

If you believe you will be accused of sexual assault or there are already accusations against you, consult with legal professionals who specialize in the sexual assault defense. Find the lawyer who is best suited for your case and share your details as openly and truthfully as possible. Only then, with full knowledge of your case, can your lawyer defend you as best as possible.

Sex Crimes Attorney defends clients across the country who are facing sexual assault accusations. With significant legal experience at both the federal and state levels, we can guide you through your situation and build the best defense for your case. Contact us today at 888-666-8480 to learn how we can defend you.