Federal Sexual Assault Laws
Sexual assault is any conduct that subjects a victim to unwanted or offensive sexual contact, such as groping, touching, and rape, which usually involves exerting unlawful force.
While the definition of sexual assault will vary from state to state, it typically involves touching someone in an unwanted manner without their consent. In other words, sexual assault refers to any nonconsensual sexual act that is a crime under state or federal laws, including acts when the victim cannot consent.
Most sexual assault or rape cases are handled in a state-level court, but some cases will be prosecuted in a federal courtroom because it falls within federal jurisdiction.
Many sexual assault charges are connected to using alcohol or date rape drugs, which makes it challenging for an alleged perpetrator to claim there was consent to sexual intercourse.
Sexual assault does not usually involve penetration or sodomy, but there must be some physical contact of a sexual nature without permission. Let's review the federal laws below.
10 USC 920: Art. 120. Rape and Sexual Assault Generally
As noted, most cases will be handled in state courts, but some different federal laws relate to sexual assault.
Article 120 is the military statute that defines rape, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, and abusive sexual contact—charges related to sexual misconduct involving a minor fall under Article 120b.
10 U.S. Code 920, Art. 120, which says, “Sexual Assault is any person subject to this chapter who (1) commits a sexual act upon another person by (A) threatening or placing that other person in fear; (B) making a fraudulent representation that the sexual act serves a professional purpose; or (C) inducing a belief by any artifice, pretense, or concealment that the person is another person, without consent.”
To prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the government has to prove that you committed federal sexual assault, which means the alleged act occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Article 120 rape applies to military members accused of committing a sexual act, and the following factors apply:
- The exertion of force that caused or would be likely cause death or serious harm to someone;
- Placing or threatening to place someone in fear of death, bodily harm, or kidnapping;
- Rendering someone unconscious;
- Giving someone without their knowledge, or through force or threat, any substance that can render them incapable of controlling conduct
Article 120 sexual assault applies to those accused of committing a sexual act, and the following factors apply:
- Threatening someone or imposing fear;
- Causing someone any bodily harm;
- Fraudulently representing the sexual act as a professional duty;
- Misrepresentation of their own identity;
- The act was without consent;
- Committing the sexual act on someone asleep, unconscious, or unaware of the sexual act.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), there are harsh penalties for sexual misconduct. For example, all service members convicted of rape or sexual assault will face a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge, along with forfeiture of all pay, allowances, and veteran benefits.
Under federal law 10 U.S. Code 843, Art. 43, there is no statute of limitations at the federal level for someone charged with rape, sexual assault, or sexual assault of a child.
18 U.S. Code 2242 - Sexual Abuse
This related statute applies when a sexual abuse crime occurs in the territorial jurisdiction of the United States or a federal prison, or any institution where people are held in custody. 18 U.S.C. 2242 says whoever knowingly does any of the following:
- Causes someone to engage in a sexual act by threatening them in fear or through coercion;
- Engages in a sexual act with someone if they are (A) incapable of knowing the nature of the conduct; or (B) physically incapable of declining participation or communicating unwillingness;
- Engages, or attempts, a sexual act with someone without their consent;
18 U.S. Code 2241 - Aggravated Sexual Abuse
To prove aggravated sexual abuse, the prosecution must also prove it occurred in the special maritime jurisdiction of the United States, a federal prison, or a facility where people are held in custody by a federal agency, and that you did the following acts:
- Knowingly caused someone to engage in a sexual act by using force;
- Threatening or making them fear that they might sustain serious bodily harm, be kidnapped, or killed;
- Renders a victim unconscious and engages in a sexual act or gives them a drug, intoxicant, or other substance by force or threat of force;
- Impairs their ability to control their actions and then engage or attempt a sexual activity on a victim;
- Crossed a state line with intent to perform a sexual act with someone under 12 or 16 if they are more than four years older than the victim.
Notably, subsection (d) State of Mind Proof Requirement says, “In a prosecution, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the other person engaging in the sexual act had not attained the age of 12 years.”
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 109A Sexual Abuse has some federal laws that are related to 18 U.S.C. 2241 aggravated sexual abuse and 18 U.S.C. 2242 sexual abuse, including the following:
- 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 Penalties for Federal Sexual Assault?
The United States federal sentencing guidelines impose minimum and maximum penalties for sexual assault, and there are 43 offense levels. They take into consideration the conduct of the crime and your criminal history (six categories).
You will be assigned points for the number of prior offenses and criminal history category from 1-6. Suppose you accept responsibility. In that case, you could receive a two or three-level decrease in the criminal history category.
The penalties for federal sexual assault will vary based on the case details and the age of the victim, such as the following:
- Sexual assault carries up to three years in prison and a fine;
- Aggravated sexual assault carries ten years in prison and a fine;
- Sexual abuse of a minor carries up to two years in prison and a fine;
- If the minor is four years younger than you, it carries up to 15 years;
- Aggravated sexual assault of a child carries 30 years to life in prison;
- Requirement to register on a national and state sex offender registry.
Notably, the information provided on these sex offender websites is public and will include your name, address, and case report. Most sex offenders are required to get treatment in prison or as a condition of their probation.
What Are the Legal Defenses?
Suppose you have been accused of sexual assault in violation of federal laws. In that case, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can challenge one or more of the crucial elements of the crime that the prosecutor must prove to obtain a conviction.
Maybe we show that the alleged victim gave consent. Recall from above that it must be proven that the alleged sexual assault occurred without the victim's consent and against their will. Maybe we can prove that the victim gave permission, which defends the charges.
Alternatively, defendants accused of sexual battery may choose to try to prove that they have a mental health condition and could not control their behavior or prove that this is a case of mistaken identity.
However, the most common legal defense for sexual assault is to admit that the act did occur, but it was consensual.
If you are accused of sexual assault of a minor under 16, maybe we can argue that you reasonably believed they were over 16 when the sexual activity occurred.
You can contact us for a free case consultation by phone or through the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.