Sexual assault refers to any non-consensual sexual act or inappropriate sexual contact someone performs (or tries to perform) on someone else. It is a crime in all states, and in some cases, the federal government can prosecute sexual assault crimes that occur within its jurisdiction.
The U.S. government has several statutes that cover sexual assault, and you should understand how the federal government can charge you with sexual assault, as well as the potential penalties you could face.
If you were arrested or are under investigation by federal authorities for sexual assault, you should also reach out to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately for a complete review of your case and help with developing an effective defense.
What Is Sexual Assault?
The federal government uses the term sexual abuse to refer to crimes involving sexual assault among civilian members of the population, and 10 U.S.C. § 920, Art. 120 defines rape and sexual assault generally for personnel and uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces. In both cases, the government defines sexual assault as:
- Committing a sexual act on someone by threatening them, placing them in fear of death or harm, or making them fear you will kidnap them
- Committing a sexual act on someone without their consent or by providing intoxicants to them so they pass out or cannot understand their situation or defend themselves against the assault
- Committing a sexual act on someone who is incapable of consenting due to a mental defect or because they were administered a drug or intoxicant
You can also face charges if you make the person believe you are performing a legitimate professional act—for instance, a licensed doctor who sexually assaults a patient during a medical examination or a prison guard who sexually assaults an inmate during a strip search. Likewise, you can face charges if you pretend to be someone else to elicit the victim's trust so you can commit the offense. For example, you claim to be a doctor, so you can perform examinations of a patient's intimate areas.
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.
For sexual assault, you do not have to make contact with the person, and you can face charges for only threatening them or placing them in fear. You can also face more serious charges if you use “unlawful force,” a weapon, or cause them serious bodily harm.
When Is Sexual Assault a Federal Offense?
The federal government can prosecute sexual assault crimes if any of the following apply:
- They occur across state lines or international boundaries.
- They occur on federal property or within the special maritime jurisdiction of the United States.
- They occur in a federal prison or official U.S. detention center against a person in federal custody.
- They affect interstate or foreign commerce.
Other factors can elevate the crime to the federal level as well, including:
- The crime involved a child under 12 years old, or the child is between 12 and 16, and you are four or more years older.
- The crime had aggravated or extremely severe aspects that warrant federal involvement, such as serious bodily injury or the use of dangerous weapons.
- The crime was against an officer or employee of the U.S. government.
Also, members of the U.S. Armed Forces accused of rape and sexual assault may face civilian prosecution in state or foreign courts along with 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:
- Aggravated sexual abuse
- Sexual abuse or a minor or ward
- Offenses resulting in death
- Sexual exploitation of a minor
You can also face additional charges if you are a repeat offender, as well as for offenses such as indecent exposure, forceful oral copulation, female genital mutilation, and other unlawful sexual behaviors.
Penalties for Federal Sexual Assault
The penalties for federal sexual assault are as broad as the laws themselves and will depend on the nature and severity of the crime. For sexual assault, prison sentences can range from months to years or even life, 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, with prison sentences as high as 30 years to life. You can also face life or even the death penalty if you seriously injure or kill anyone during the crime.
Sex Offender Registry
Along with prison time, fines, and possible restitution, you may also have to register as a sex offender. This is particularly true if the crime involved children or was violent. You will have to register with the federal government, the state you live in, and any state in which the crime occurred.
Federal Sexual Assault Defenses
A primary defense for any type of sexual assault charge is consent. If the other person gave you permission to engage in the sexual act, you could not face charges for assault. However, factors such as the person's age or mental capacity at the time will determine whether the person was legally capable of giving consent.
Other defense options may include:
- False accusations - Perhaps the person was seeking revenge against you and falsely accused you, or another person perpetrated the crime and blamed you as a scapegoat.
- DNA or other evidence does not support your involvement – Despite the prosecution's allegations, the evidence may not support you were involved at all.
- Constitutional violations – Federal authorities infringed upon your constitutional rights during search and seizure, interrogations, or evidence gathering.
The government will have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction, and you may have many effective defense options available to successfully fight the charges. However, you will need an objective evaluation of your case from an experienced federal defense attorney.
Get the Help You Need From an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Criminal Defense Team have many years of experience defending clients in New Jersey District Court against sexual assault and other federal charges. They can review your case, advise you of your options, and fight hard to help you protect your future.
Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.