Facing charges for federal aggravated sexual abuse is an extremely serious matter. If found guilty, you could face considerable time in federal prison and substantial fines, and you will have to register as a sex offender. The whole ordeal will take a massive toll on your life and reputation, and you will experience challenges as to where you can live and work, along with other serious repercussions to your liberties.
If you have been charged with federal aggravated sexual abuse, you should speak with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer can help you understand the charges against you and advise you of your options. They can also assert your rights and help you obtain the best outcome possible.
What Is Federal Aggravated Sexual Abuse?
The federal government defines its laws regarding sexual abuse in 18 U.S.C. Ch. 109A, and it becomes “aggravated” due to factors involving the offense, such as the use of force. Under federal law, aggravated sexual abuse is a crime when someone causes another person to “engage in a sexual act” by:
- Forcing the person to commit the act against their will
- Threatening the person or making them fear they may be killed, injured, or kidnapped
The law also makes it a crime to make someone fear that another person's life or safety may be in danger. For instance, someone could threaten your children, spouse, or other loved one in order to make you submit to the sex act.
In addition to using force or threats against someone, you can also be charged with aggravated sexual abuse if you render the person unconscious or make them incapable of understanding their situation or resisting the conduct. The law prohibits you from giving someone any kind of drug or intoxicant without their knowledge or by using force, threats, or coercion.
You can also face charges even if you attempt any of these offenses or don't follow through on the sexual act.
Federal Aggravated Sexual Abuse Against Children
Aggravated sexual abuse is a crime against persons of any age. However, the government outlines specific offenses involving children, and federal law prohibits the following:
- Crossing a state line with the intent to have sex with someone under the age of 12
- Knowingly engaging in sex with someone under 12 on federal property, which can include national parks and federal prisons, or anywhere “in a special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”
The law also has a “state of proof requirement.” This means the government does not have to prove you were aware the individual was under 12.
Additionally, the law prohibits sex with a person who is between 12 and 16 if you are four or more years older.
Penalties for Federal Aggravated Sexual Abuse
As the highest level of sexual abuse, federal aggravated sexual abuse carries harsh penalties upon conviction. The maximum sentence is life in prison, with a 30-year minimum if the crime involved children. If you have prior convictions for sex crimes, you could receive a life sentence.
Also, penalties can include considerable fines, and you will likely have to pay restitution on top of other costs. Further, you will have to register as a sex offender.
Sex Offender Registry
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires that anyone convicted of sex crimes register as a sex offender in any location they live, work, or go to school. The law also requires all states to make any information regarding registered sex offenders in their area publicly available.
SORNA also classifies sex offenders on a three-tier scale, based on their potential danger to the community. The federal government and all states have sex offender websites available that anyone can search.
A person convicted of sex crimes against children must inform local law enforcement any time they have a change of address or employment or if they are released from prison or a psychiatric facility. In most cases, a person must register within three days, and if they don't, they can be arrested on a felony charge.
New Jersey Aggravated Sexual Assault
If the crime occurred in New Jersey, the state could prosecute you alongside the federal government. The state defines the offense as aggravated sexual assault in the first degree, and it follows federal laws closely as far as using force, threats, or making the person helpless. However, the state has raised the age limit to 13.
Penalties can be between 10 to 20 years in federal prison and up to $200,000 in fines.
Defenses Against Federal Aggravated Sexual Abuse
Federal prosecutors must obtain a grand jury indictment against you to officially charge and prosecute you, so they may feel they have enough evidence. However, evidence can be challenged, and the government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The facts and circumstances surrounding your case are vitally important to developing your defense, and some possible strategies may involve:
- Age and consent – The alleged victim may have given consent, or they may have misrepresented their age.
- Your mental state at the time – This can include your mental capacity to commit the crime or your ability to even know you were committing a crime. Lack of intent may be another option.
Regardless, the government will have to prove it was you who committed the crime. Under closer scrutiny during your indictment or at trial, the evidence may not support you were involved at all. You may have also experienced violations of your constitutional rights, such as unreasonable search and seizure or the right to counsel.
Get Help From an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience representing clients in New Jersey who are facing federal charges of aggravated sexual abuse. He will evaluate your case and advise you of your best options. He can also fight to help you get the most favorable results possible. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online to request a confidential consultation.