Tennessee Sexual Battery Laws

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Sexual battery (sometimes also called rape or “sexual assault”) is illegal in Tennessee, and punished as a felony. The circumstances of the offense determine the level of felony, which in turn determine the penalties that apply to the crime.

When it comes to sexual assault, the law strives to protect strangers, acquaintances, and married people equally. In Tennessee, as in all states, there is no exception or defense to prosecution for assault or rape that occurs within a marriage (to learn more about marital rape laws in Tennessee, see Marital Rape in Tennessee).

Sexual Battery

In Tennessee, sexual battery occurs when someone compels a victim to engage in unlawful sexual contact against the victim’s will, and also includes circumstances when the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent to sex (such as being in a coma or having passed out from drug or alcohol use), and fraud (such as tricking a victim into believing that the defendant is the victim’s spouse).

The offense is considered an aggravated sexual battery if it causes bodily injury to the victim, if the defendant carried a weapon during the offense or was aided by one or more other people, or if the victim was younger than 13 years old at the time of the offense.

(Tn. Code Ann. § 39-13-505 & 39-13-504.)

Rape

Rape occurs when a defendant forces the victim to have unwanted sexual penetration. Whereas sexual battery involves unwanted sexual contact, rape requires penetration (however slight). Like battery, rape also includes circumstances when the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent to sex (such as being in a coma or having passed out from drug or alcohol use), and fraud.

The offense is considered aggravated rape if it causes bodily injury to the victim, or if the defendant carried a weapon during the offense or was aided by one or more other people.

(Tn. Code Ann. § 39-13-503 & 39-13-502.)

Penalties

Sexual battery and rape are felonies, and the applicable fines and prison term depend on the circumstances of the crime.

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.

Aggravated sexual battery and rape are Class B felonies. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, at least eight (and up to 30) years in prison, or both.

Aggravated rape is a Class A felony, which incurs a fine of up to $50,000, at least 15 (and up to 60) years in prison, or both.

Defenses to a Charge of Sexual Assault

Defendants charged with sexual assault 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 sexual assault 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.

See a Lawyer

If you are facing a sexual assault charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses apply to sexual assault charges, and a lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.

A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time); and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.

Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors

If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.

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