Sexual Battery: Laws and Penalties

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What is Sexual Battery?

Rape, sexual assault or criminal sexual penetration is sexual intercourse that is forced on another without the person’s consent or against the person’s will. A lesser form of this crime – referred to as sexual battery or criminal sexual contact – is sexual contact or touching that does not involve intercourse or sexual penetration but is still a criminal offense. (The term “sexual battery” refers to criminal sexual touching in some states, but to the more serious offense of rape or criminal sexual penetration in other states.)

Rape, sexual assault or criminal sexual penetration is defined as sexual penetration or sodomy without consent. Sexual penetration is penetration of the vagina with a body part or an object and sodomy refers to oral sex – contact between the mouth and penis or female genitalia – or penetration of the anus with a body part of object.

Sexual battery or criminal sexual contact is sexual conduct that does not involve penetration or sodomy, but does involve physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person’s consent. It often is defined as the touching of an intimate part of the body (clothed or unclothed, depending on the state) for the purpose of sexual arousal or pleasure, without the other person’s consent; or forcing another person to touch an intimate part of the offender’s body for the same purpose.

Consent

Lack of consent is the crucial component of sex crimes. Sexual conduct becomes criminal when sexual touch is not consented to, either because the offender forces another person to be sexual against his or her will, or because the other person is considered incapable of consent or to have diminished mental capacity to consent. Those who are deemed incapable of consent include minors under the age of fourteen or fifteen, regardless of their mental abilities to understand the nature of the act and their ability to refuse (but see “Sexual Conduct with a Minor,” below). In addition, sex with the following people is criminal if they do not have the capacity to knowingly consent:

  • a developmentally disabled person
  • someone who is mentally ill, and
  • a person who is incapacitated – drugged, drunk, or unconscious – or otherwise physically helpless.

Sexual Conduct with a Minor

In some states, sexual contact with a minor above a certain age is criminalized only if the offender is older than the victim by a certain number of years – more than three years, for instance. This allows for a fifteen year old to have sexual contact with her eighteen year old boyfriend without the boyfriend’s actions being criminal. If a 21 year old has sexual contact with a 15 year old in the same state, however, the sexual contact would be criminal.

Sexual Conduct by a Person in Authority or a Mental Health Care Provider

Many states also criminalize sexual contact between a person in authority, such as a teacher, police officer, or prison guard; and someone over whom that person has authority, like a student, a person in police custody, or a prisoner. The rationale for criminalizing this conduct is that capacity to consent is diminished by the authority the teacher or other authority figure has over the student or other person.

Many states also criminalize sexual contact between a psychotherapist or other mental health care provider and a client or patient on the grounds that the nature of the relationship makes the client or patient incapable of knowing, voluntary consent.

Defenses

Defendants charged with sexual battery or criminal sexual contact have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, starting with “Someone else committed this crime.” A defendant can also claim that the sexual activity was consensual. In a criminal sexual contact case, there can be significant questions about what constitutes consent or what constitutes refusal. This has led to the infamous question of when does “No” mean “No?” Does the word constitute a lack of consent as soon as it is spoken, or must the victim object more vigorously?

Another possible defense is an insanity plea, in which the defense argues that the accused is mentally ill and did not have the capacity to control his behavior, to form criminal intent or to understand what he was doing or that his actions were unlawful.

Penalties: Imprisonment or Jail

Criminal sexual contact or sexual battery that does not involve penetration is usually considered a less serious crime than rape, and subjects an accused to lighter penalties than rape or criminal sexual penetration. However, criminal sexual contact that results in personal injury or is committed with a deadly weapon or by more than one person normally is a felony.

Sentences for this type of crime can range from one to several years in prison, depending on the circumstances and the state’s sentencing guidelines. Some states require a minimum prison sentence or require the court to impose a prison sentence without probation or early parole. In other states, the judge may have some discretion on the length of the sentence and whether to allow the defendant to serve any portion of the sentence on probation rather than in prison.

Criminal sexual contact without a weapon that involves only force or coercion can be a misdemeanor. An offender convicted of a misdemeanor can be sentenced to up to one year in a jail but is not required to serve time in prison.

Penalties: Treatment

A person convicted of a sex crime also will face penalties other than jail or prison. Sex offenders normally are required to undergo treatment either in jail or prison or as a condition of probation.

Penalties: Sexual Offender Registration

Every state in the U.S. has a sex offender registration and notification program. Sex offender registry statutes require that a person convicted of a sex offense register with the sex offender registry in the state where he resides. A sex offense requiring registration is any crime that includes sexual penetration or sexual contact as an element.

Registration as a sex offender requires a person to have his name, address and information about his crime on file with the registry. Some or all of that information is available to the public and every state has a sex offender web site that the public can search.

Sexual Battery Laws by State

Get state specific information for sexual battery laws and penalties.

State Penalties At-A-Glance
Penalties include a fine of up to $60,000, at least ten years (and up to life or 99 years) in prison, or both. Additional penalties apply to offenses committed with a deadly weapon.
Alaska The court can impose a fine up to $250,000. Imprisonment is permitted for not more than twenty years. The Court can order the defendant to repay the victim injured by the offense
Arizona Penalties include a fine, at least five years and three months (and up to 28 years) in prison, or both.
Arkansas Rape is a Class Y felony, and penalties include a fine, at least ten years (and up to forty years or life) in prison, or both.
California Imprisonment for a term of three, six, or eight years. The court can impose a fine of up to $70 to be paid to the victim, or up to $1,000 to be paid to a battered women’s shelter.
Colorado Sexual assault is usually charged as a class 4 felony, and penalties include a fine of at least $2,000 (and up to $5,000), at least one year (and up to 12 years) in prison, or both.
Connecticut Penalties for sexual assault include a fine of up to $25,000, at least one year (and up to 25 years) in prison, or both.
Delaware Penalties for sexual assault include a fine, up to 15 years in prison, or both. Increased penalties—including a prison sentence of at least 25 years (and up to life)—apply if the defendant has certain previous sex crime convictions.
D.C. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, the minimum penalties for sexual assault include a fine of up to $50,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
Florida Penalties include a fine, life in prison, or both. Offenders are required to serve at least 25 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Georgia Rape is punishable by 25 years to life imprisonment or life without parole. Aggravated sexual battery is punishable by 25 years to life imprisonment.
Hawaii Sexual assault in the first degree is a class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Idaho Rape and statutory rape are punishable by one year to life imprisonment. The defendant may also be required to pay restitution to a rape victim for any costs incurred as a result of the crime.
Criminal sexual assault is a Class 1 felony, punishable by four to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $25,000. People convicted a second or subsequent time for criminal sexual assault or a similar crime may be sentenced to even longer prison terms, including life imprisonment.
Indiana Sexual battery is a Class D felony, punishable by six months in jail or up to 3 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. Aggravated sexual battery is a Class C felony, punishable by two to eight years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Iowa Sexual abuse in the first degree is a class “A” felony, punishable by life imprisonment. Sexual abuse in the second degree is a class “B” felony, punishable by up to 25 years’ imprisonment.
Kansas Rape of a child by a person over the age of 18 is an off-grid person felony, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $500,000. Rape by fraud is a level 2 person felony, punishable by 109 to 493 months in prison and a fine of up to $300,000. 
Kentucky Rape and sodomy in the first degree are Class B felonies, punishable by ten to 20 years in prison, unless the victim is under 12 years old or receives a serious physical injury, in which case they are Class A felonies, punishable by 20 to 50 years’ or life imprisonment.
Louisiana Aggravated rape is punishable by life without parole at hard labor. Forcible rape is punishable by five to 40 years’ imprisonment at hard labor.
Maine Aggravated gross sexual assault is a Class A crime, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. Gross sexual assault based on the relationship between the parties is a Class C crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Maryland A person convicted in Maryland of the felony crime of a sexual offense in the first degree faces a possible sentence of up life in prison.  A person convicted in Maryland of the felony crime of a sexual offense in the second degree faces a possible sentence of not more than 20 years in prison.
Massachusetts Rape is a felony in Massachusetts. A person convicted of rape faces a possible penalty of not more than 20 years in prison. 
Michigan The crime is a misdemeanor and carries a possible sentence of not more than 2 years in prison, a fine of not more than $500, or both.
Minnesota First degree criminal sexual conduct carries the most severe possible penalty and a person convicted of that felony faces not less than 12 years and not more than 30 years in prison, a fine of not more than $40,000, or both. 
Mississippi Sexual battery is a felony in Mississippi. A person convicted of the crime faces a prison term of not more than 30 years.
Missouri In Missouri, rape and sexual assault are class C felonies and anyone convicted of either crime faces a prison term not to exceed seven years, a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both.
A first conviction of sexual assault under Montana law may result in a jail term not to exceed six months, a fine not to exceed $500, or both.
Nebraska Sexual assault in the second degree, which results in serious physical injury to the victim, is a Class III felony in Nebraska. A conviction carries a possible penalty of one to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
Nevada In Nevada, battery with intent to commit sexual assault that results in substantial bodily harm to the victim faces a minimum sentence of 10 years with the possibility of parole; and a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
New Hampshire Misdemeanor sexual assault in New Hampshire carries a possible penalty of up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
New Jersey Sexual assault without any aggravating factors is a second degree crime, and incurs a fine of up to $150,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
New Mexico Penalties include a fine of up to $15,000, up to 18 years in prison, or both.
New York Rape in the first degree is a class B felony, and penalties may include a fine, up to 25 years in prison, or both.
North Carolina North Carolina’s sentencing structure may include fines, time in prison, or both; and increased penalties apply for defendants who have prior criminal convictions.
North Dakota Sexual assault is a class B misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of up to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both.
Ohio Sexually assaulting someone who is 13 years or older incurs a fine, at least one year (and up to five years) in prison, or both. If the assault included rape, penalties increase to at least five (and up to 11) years in prison, or both.
Oklahoma Penalties for rape depend on the circumstances of the crime, and can include a fine, up to life in prison, or both.
Oregon Rape in the first degree is a class A felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $375,000, up to 20 years in prison, or both.
Pennsylvania Rape is a first degree felony, and penalties may include a fine, up to 20 years in prison, or both. 
Penalties for sexual assault include a fine, at least ten years (and up to life) in prison.
South Carolina The penalty for spousal sexual battery includes up to ten years in prison. 
South Dakota Rape is usually a Class 1 felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, up to 50 years in prison, or both.
Tennessee Sexual battery is a Class E felony, which incurs a fine of up to $3,000, at least one (and up to six) years in prison, or both.
Texas Penalties for sexual assault include a fine of up to $10,000, at least two (and up to life 20) years in prison, or both.
Utah Penalties include a fine, at least five years in prison (and up to life in prison without parole), or both. 
Vermont A conviction for sexual assault incurs at least three years (and up to life) in prison, and may also include a fine of up to $25,000.
Virginia A conviction for rape incurs at least five years (and up to life) in prison. Additional penalties apply to someone who rapes a child younger than 13 years old.
Washington Rape is usually a class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, up to life in prison, or both.
West Virginia Sexual assault in the first degree incurs a prison term of at least 15 (and up to 35) years, a fine of at least $1,000 (and up to $10,000), or both.
Wisconsin First degree sexual assault is a Class B felony, which incurs up to 60 years in prison. Second degree sexual assault is a Class C felony, which incurs a fine of up to $100,000, up to 40 years in prison, or both.
Wyoming First degree sexual assault incurs at least five (and up to 50) years in prison. Second degree sexual assault incurs at least two (and up to 20) years in prison.

Legal Representation

A sex crime is a very serious charge. A conviction for even misdemeanor sexual battery can seriously impact your life. Defendants face the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence and the stigma of being a convicted felon (felons lose the ability to vote or own firearms). Being required to register as a sex offender is considered by many as the most onerous consequence because the label “sex offender” has such a negative connotation in the public eye.

For these reasons, it’s essential for defendants to secure competent counsel as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney will thoroughly investigate your case, aid you in asserting any possible defenses, and guide you through the criminal court process. Many of these cases plead to lesser offenses that do not require sex offender registration. Obtaining a good plea bargain or defending yourself at trial will require the assistance of a professional who is familiar with the way cases like yours are handled by the prosecutors and judges in your courthouse.

by: , Contributing Author

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