Aggravated Sexual Assault Charges and Penalties

Aggravated sexual assault or rape is defined as some form of sexual penetration on another against the person's will and without their consent.

By , Contributing Author

Sexual assault or rape refers to the crime of forcing sexual intercourse, sodomy or some form of sexual penetration on another, against the person's will and without the person's consent. Most, if not all states, define sexual penetration as penetration of the vagina with a part of the body or an object. Sodomy consists of oral sex (contact between a person's mouth and genitalia) or penetration of the anus with a part of the body or an object.

When Sexual Assault or Rape Is Aggravated

Aggravated sexual assault or aggravated rape is a more serious form of the crime of rape or sexual assault, because the circumstances or the injury are considered "aggravated" or more serious than the circumstances or injury involved in other rapes or sexual assault. Some states have degrees of sexual assault or sexual penetration with first degree being the most serious form of the crime and the equivalent of aggravated sexual assault in other states.

The circumstances that distinguish aggravated sexual assault from non-aggravated vary from state to state. The following are commonly listed as circumstances that elevate the crime of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault to an aggravated offense:

  • the assailant uses, displays or threatens the victim with a deadly weapon during the offense
  • the offender causes serious or severe physical injury or permanently disfigures or disables the victim
  • the assailant acts with extreme indifference to human life during the commission of the assault
  • the offender attempts to kill the victim or another person during the commission of the assault
  • the assailant is aided by or commits the assault with one or more other person
  • the offender uses a rape drug to incapacitate the victim
  • the victim is physically helpless or temporarily or permanently unable to give consent because the victim is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, mentally incapacitated, elderly, or otherwise disabled or vulnerable
  • the assault involves incest or is committed by a step-parent or guardian
  • the offender has supervisory, disciplinary, or other power over the victim because of his legal, professional, or occupational status, and
  • the assault is committed during the commission or attempted commission of another felony such as kidnapping, robbery, homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, arson, or escape from jail or prison


Sexual conduct is criminal if sexual touch is not consented to, either because the perpetrator forces the other person or because the victim is incapable of consent. Minors under the age of fourteen or fifteen, depending on the state, are considered incapable of consent regardless of their mental ability to understand the nature of the act or their right to refuse. In some states, sex with a minor over a certain age is a crime only if the offender is older than the minor by a certain number of years – for instance, three years older.

Age of the Victim

In most states, sexual assault of a child under a certain age is a child abuse crime or defined as sexual assault of a minor or child. A few states, however, define sexual assault on a child under 14 as aggravated sexual assault. Other states impose stiffer penalties for the crime of aggravated sexual assault if the victim is under the age of 16 or 14 or 13.

Penalties for Aggravated Sexual Assault: Imprisonment

Each state that has an aggravated sexual assault statute sets its own punishment. Because this is a more serious crime than sexual assault or rape without aggravating circumstances, the possible sentence is more severe and often quite significant. The crime is always a felony and often a felony in the first degree or of the most serious level defined by a state's criminal code. Possible sentences range from five to fifteen years in prison. If the victim is under the age of 16 or less, the minimum sentence increases in some states to 20 and even 25 years. In many states, aggravated sexual assault also carries a possible maximum life sentence under certain circumstances.

Whether to extend a sentence beyond the minimum and up to the maximum is normally the judge's decision in each individual case. The judge usually will consider factors such as the circumstances and details of the crime, the defendant's past criminal record, injury to the victim, personal information about the defendant, and whether the defendant shows any genuine remorse.

Probation and Treatment

Except for a mandatory life sentence, judges often have the discretion to allow a person convicted of a sexual assault crime to serve a portion of his sentence on probation. While on probation, the offender will be supervised by a probation officer and required to obey certain rules such as curfews and no association with other felons, find and maintain employment, submit to random drug testing, perform community service, and surrender all weapons. If an offender violates a condition of probation, he can be required to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison or to serve a certain amount of time in jail or prison in order to have his probation reinstated.

Sex offenders also must participate in mandatory treatment whether in prison or on probation, which normally consists of individual or group counseling, specific sex offender programs, and possibly medication.

Penalties: Sexual Offender Registration

Any crime that includes an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact usually requires that the offender register with the state's sex offender registration and notification program. It is extremely rare for a judge to have any other option than to require registration.

A sex offender must provide his name, address and information about his crime to the sex offender registry. Some or all of that information is available to the public and can be accessed on public web sites. Sex offender registration can have serious and life-long consequences for the offender, including difficulties in finding employment and housing.

Legal Representation

Aggravated sexual assault or rape is a very serious crime. Defendants face the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence and life as a convicted felon, losing the right to vote, serve on juries, obtain certain professional licenses, and carry firearms. Registration as a sex offender often is considered the worst consequence because of the stigma of being a "known sex offender."

Because of the potential serious penalties and consequences that a person accused of aggravated sexual assault faces, it is essential that a defendant seek competent legal counsel. An experienced criminal defense attorney will thoroughly investigate your case, assert any possible defenses, represent you at trial or negotiate a plea bargain – if appropriate – and guide you through the criminal court process.

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