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Federal Sexual Assault

Federal Sexual Assault and Battery Laws

The term “sexual assault” typically refers to a crime where somebody makes sexual contact or touches another person in an unwanted way that is considered offensive.

Simply put, sexual assault crimes include a broad range of unlawful behavior, such as raping, groping, and touching someone to commit assault and battery.

Federal Sexual Assault Laws
Sexual battery is contact or touching that is unwanted and is considered offensive.

All states have laws making sexual assault a crime, and most cases are prosecuted in state courtrooms by local district attorneys. Every state has a slightly different legal definition of sexual assault, but it generally involves the act of touching someone in an unwanted manner without their consent.

Simply put, sexual assault refers to any nonconsensual sexual act prohibited by state or federal law, including acts when someone is unable to consent. 

Sexual battery is generally defined as sexual conduct that does not involve penetration or sodomy but involves some physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person's consent.

Sexual assault and battery are both legal terms for state and federal crimes with different definitions.  Some sexual assault cases are prosecuted in federal court. You will face severe penalties at the state and federal levels if convicted. 

Generally, sexual assault is involuntary sexual touching that occurs through force, coercion, or the victim's incapacitation.

Under federal law, a victim is considered incapacitated if they lack the mental ability to understand the sexual acts or are not physically capable of indicating that they were unwilling to participate in the acts. Often, sexual assault charges are related to date rape, drugs, alcohol, and intoxication, making it difficult for someone to consent to sexual activity.

What are the Federal Sexual Assault Laws?

  • 18 U.S. Code 2242 defines sexual abuse, including physical coercion, and could include fines and imprisonment for life in federal prisons, special maritime and territorial jurisdictions, and other institutions.
  • 10 U.S. Code 920 defines rape and includes rendering somebody unconscious. The law says that consent is not given by a sleeping, unconscious, or incompetent person or by a victim who is threatened.
  • The Debbie Smith Act gives resources for DNA evidence for a national database.
  • The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to warn students about crimes involving sexual violence.
  • The Campus Save Act Increases transparency requirements for colleges, guarantees survivor rights, and establishes disciplinary proceedings.
  • Federal laws also cover sexual abuse of children that can be prosecuted under federal law on federal lands, such as military bases, Indian territories, and other government-owned lands. 

Rape and Sexual Assault Generally

Federal sexual assault and rape are collectively called “sexual abuse” and are covered under 10 U.S. Code 920, Art. 120. Notably, the main element of the crime in a sexual assault charge is the issue of consent. Under federal law, the age of consent is 16, while generally 18 under most state laws.

To convict you, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a federal prison, or any prison, institution, or facility where people are held in custody by a federal department or agency knowingly:

  • Caused somebody to engage in a sexual act by threat or
  • Placing someone in fear of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping, or
  • Engaged in, or attempted, a sexual act with somebody Incapable of evaluating the nature of the conduct or physically unable to say no or communicate their unwillingness to engage in the sexual act.
  • Engages in, or attempts, a sexual act with a minor over 12 but under 16 and is at least four years younger than the defendant.
  • Engages in, or attempts, a sexual act with someone in official detention and within their custody.

Federal Sexual Battery

The federal crime of sexual battery is called “aggravated sexual abuse,” defined under 18 U.S.C. 2241. 

To convict you, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a federal prison, or a facility where people are held in custody by a federal agency, and the following:

  • You knowingly caused someone to engage in a sexual act by using force against them or
  • By threatening or making them fear that they might die, be put in serious bodily harm, be kidnapped, or attempt to do so,
  • You rendered them unconscious and engaged in a sexual act with them or
  • Gave the victim a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance by force or threat of force and
  • Substantially impaired their ability to control their actions and engage in, or attempt to engage in, a sexual act, 
  • You crossed a state line with the intent to perform a sexual act with someone under the age of 12 or  
  • Under 16 years old if you are over four years older than the victim.

The term “sexual act” means the penetration, however slight, of the penis into the anus or mouth, contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, scrotum, or anus, or the penetration, however slight, of the penis or anus of another by any part of the body or any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

The term “force” means the use of a weapon, the use of such physical strength or violence as is sufficient to overcome, restrain, or injure a person or inflicting physical harm sufficient to coerce or compel submission by the victim.

What are Related Federal Laws? 

18 U.S. Code Chapter 109A has numerous federal laws related to sexual abuse, including the following: 

  • 18 U.S.C. 2241 - aggravated sexual abuse,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2242 – sexual abuse,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2243 – sexual abuse of a minor or ward,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2244 – abusive sexual contact,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2245 – offenses resulting in death,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2246 – definitions for the chapter,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2247 – repeat offenders,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2248 – mandatory restitution.

What are the Punishments? 

The United States federal sentencing guidelines outline the minimum and maximum punishments for a conviction under federal law, considering the conduct associated with the crime and 43 offense levels.

A defendant's criminal history and six history categories are also reviewed. Depending on the number of prior offenses and the criminal history category, a defendant is assigned points from 1 to 6. Defendants who accept responsibility for their actions can receive a two or three-level decrease in the criminal history category.

The punishments for federal sexual assault or battery will vary depending on the nature of the crime and the victim's age, such as the following. 

  • Aggravated sexual assault carries up to ten years in federal prison.
  • Sexual abuse carries a three-year sentence, a fine, or both.
  • Sexual abuse of a minor ward carries up to two years, a fine, or both.
  • If the minor is four years younger than the defendant, the imprisonment term can be increased to 15 years.
  • Aggravated sexual assault carries a 30-year or life sentence.
  • Requirement to register on a national and state-specific sex offender registry. The websites are public and include the defendant's name, address, and case report.

Notably, most sex offenders must undergo treatment in jail or prison or as a condition of their probation.

Defendants convicted of sexually abusing a child face fines and imprisonment and harsher penalties if the crime occurred in aggravated circumstances, which include using force or threats, inflicting serious bodily injury or death, or kidnapping a child.  

What are the Best Defenses?

Our federal sex crime defense lawyers could use several potential legal defenses against sexual assault or battery charges at the federal level. 

Suppose you are accused of sexual assault of a victim under 16. In that case, perhaps we can argue that you reasonably believed they were over 16 when the sexual activity took place. Maybe we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity. 

Perhaps we can argue that the sexual activity was consensual. The most common defense for sexual assault is to admit the act occurred but say the victim gave consent. 

The federal prosecutor must prove the sex act occurred without the victim's consent and against their will. Therefore, perhaps there is evidence the alleged victim gave permission, which is normally a complete defense against a charge of sexual assault. Contact us for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.

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