Sexual assault is a crime where someone performs, or tries to perform, a non-consensual sexual act or inappropriate sexual contact with someone else. All states have laws against sexual assault, and the crime can fall under federal jurisdiction in some cases.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation by federal authorities for sexual assault, you should understand how the federal government defines the crime and the possible penalties you could face. You also need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense team as soon as possible to advise you of your options and help you build an effective defense.
What is Sexual Assault?
The federal government refers to sexual assault crimes as sexual abuse. The government defines sexual abuse as one in which a person knowingly and intentionally does any of the following:
- Commits a sexual act on someone by threatening them or making them fear for their life or safety
- Commits a sexual act on someone by giving them intoxicants or substances so that they cannot understand their situation or resist the assault
- Commits a sexual act on someone without their consent, which can include those who are incapable of consenting due to their age or mental defect
Additionally, the government defines rape and sexual assault generally for personnel and uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces, which follow the same definitions above.
You can also face sexual assault charges if you make the person believe you are performing a legitimate professional act. For example, you are a doctor and you sexually assault a patient during a medical examination, or you are a prison guard who sexually assaults an inmate during a strip search.
Similarly, you can face criminal charges if you pretend to be someone—a doctor, for instance—to gain the victim's trust so you can sexually assault them.
Sexual contact refers to any penetration, no matter how slight, of the penis, vulva, anus, or mouth that does not have a legitimate medical, law enforcement, or hygienic purpose. The government can also prosecute for aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact.
To be charged with sexual assault, you don't have to physically contact the victim. Authorities can charge you with the crime if you only attempt the act or if you place reasonable fear in the victim through threats. Moreover, you can also face more serious charges if you use unlawful force or a weapon during the crime, or if you seriously injure them.
What Makes Sexual Assault a Federal Offense?
Crimes fall under federal jurisdiction depending on when, how, where, and against whom they occurred. The federal government can prosecute sexual assault crimes if any of the following apply:
- They occur across state lines or international boundaries.
- They occur in a federal prison or official U.S. detention center against a person in federal custody.
- They occur on federal property or within the special maritime jurisdiction of the United States.
- They affect interstate or foreign commerce.
Additionally, you can face federal prosecution for sexual assault if any of the following apply:
- You sexually assaulted a child under 12 years of age
- The crime involved a child between 12 and 16, and you are four or more years older.
- You sexually assaulted an officer or employee of the U.S. government.
Also, if you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and you are accused of sexual assault or rape, you can face civilian prosecution in state or foreign courts along with prosecution in military courts. A convicted servicemember could face a court-martial as well as harsh state-level penalties if convicted in both jurisdictions.
Because the laws governing sexual assault are so broad, you can face additional charges for more specific crimes that can include:
- Sexual abuse or a minor or ward
- Sexual exploitation of a minor
- Aggravated sexual abuse
- Offenses resulting in death
You can also face additional charges and harsher penalties if you are a repeat offender. Furthermore, you can face charges for ancillary crimes, such as indecent exposure, forceful oral copulation, and other unlawful sexual acts.
Federal Sexual Assault Penalties
The penalties you could receive for federal sexual assault will depend on the nature and severity of the crime. Prison sentences can range from months to years in prison, along with fines, and aggravated sexual assault can carry a 10-year prison sentence and fines.
Sexual assault or abuse against children typically carries the harshest penalties. You could receive up to 30 years to life in prison, along with substantial fines. You can also face life in prison or even the death penalty if you seriously injure or kill anyone during the crime.
Registering as a Sex Offender
Another consequence of a sexual assault conviction is that you will have to register as a sex offender. You will have to register with the National Sex Offender Registry, your state's sex offender registry, and the registry of any other state where the crime occurred.
For crimes against children and violent crimes, such as rape, you will also have to maintain your registry and notify authorities in your area if you move or get released from prison or a psychiatric hospital.
Defenses for Federal Sexual Assault
Since the primary element of sexual assault is the lack of consent by the victim, you may have a defense if your attorney can show the person gave you consent to engage in the sexual act. Of course, the person would have to have been old enough and had the mental capacity to give consent.
Apart from consent, your attorney could show you were falsely accused of the crime. Sometimes, people seek revenge on others by accusing them of crimes they didn't commit, or someone may have committed the crime and blamed you as a scapegoat.
Your defense attorney will also carefully analyze all evidence in the case, and upon further scrutiny, the evidence may not support you were involved in the crime at all. DNA analysis, for instance, has exonerated those accused of sexual crimes.
Other defense options may lie in whether authorities violated your constitutional rights during investigation, interrogation, and prosecution, or whether they unlawfully obtained evidence against you through illegal searches and seizures.
Get an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney to Help
Regardless of the evidence or allegations, prosecutors will have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. You need a thorough and objective evaluation of your case from an experienced federal criminal defense attorney, and you can contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or online to schedule a consultation.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have many years of experience defending clients in Pennsylvania District Courts against sexual assault and other federal charges. He can review your case, advise you of your options, and fight hard to help you protect your future.