Sexual Assault Defenses

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 Sexual Assault Defenses

In criminal law, there are a variety of facts and circumstances that tend to negate the elements of a crime, including especially the element of intent. These are the defenses to the crime. In all criminal cases, the prosecution, usually represented by a public official known as the “District Attorney,” has the burden of proving that the person charged with the crime committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The person charged with the crime, the “defendant” in legal terms, can defeat the prosecution in a number of ways.

One way is to attack the prosecution’s evidence, so that the prosecution fails to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, the defense might show that the prosecution’s eye witness really did not see the crime as well as the prosecution claims, because the location was dark and the witness far away from the actual scene. If the defense is successful in attacking the testimony of the eye witness, a jury might find that the prosecution has not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Another way to defeat the prosecution is for the defense, the attorneys for the defendant, to present its own evidence to support affirmative defenses. One common affirmative defense is the alibi defense, in which the defendant produces a witness who says that the defendant could not possibly have committed the crime because the defendant was with the alibi witness at the time in a completely different location. So, some other person must have committed the crime.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any sexual activity that occurs without clear consent from both parties. Sexual assault is a crime in every state. Sexual assault laws also forbid sexual activity with a person who is incapable of consent. People who are mentally ill, under the age of 18, or intoxicated are considered unable to consent. There are many activities that fall under sexual assault, such as, rape, molestation, forced sodomy, and incest.

Is Sexual Assault a Criminal or a Civil Crime?

Sexual assault and sexual battery can lead to both criminal charges and to a civil lawsuit brought by the victim. The criminal laws of each state classify sexual crimes and prescribe the penalties for each one. Generally the penalty for sexual assault or battery involve imprisonment in jail or a penitentiary, the payment of fines and possibly registration as a sex offender.

Victims of sexual assault can also file a civil suit against their abuser or attacker. These civil claims are aimed at recovering money damages for the physical and mental injury and pain and suffering that were inflicted on them by the perpetrator of a sexual assault. Civil claims against the perpetrators of sexual assault can be filed at the same time as criminal charges are prosecuted against the perpetrator. However, if a perpetrator has been charged with a crime, the victim might want to wait until there is a disposition of criminal charges. If the perpetrator is convicted, this might help the victim in their civil lawsuit.

What are Defenses for Sexual Assault?

There are several defenses which may be available for individuals charged with the crime of sexual assault, such as:

  • Suppression of Evidence: If evidence such as text messages, emails, phone messages, video, or physical evidence can be suppressed, it can help in the defense of a person charged with sexual assault; the suppression of evidence is usually based on the assertion that it was collected in violation of a defendant’s right not to be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
  • Actual Innocence: Since everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a U.S. court of law, a person who did not commit the crime can certainly assert that they did not do it;
  • Consent: Usually sexual assaults happen in private. But if a person charged with assault can prove that the alleged victim consented to the activity, then this can constitute a successful defense;
  • Insanity: A legally insane person is unable to consent to sexual acts. If the person charged with sexual assault is legally insane, then this can also be a successful defense.

Inebriation is not a defense to the crime, because if either party was drunk at the time the sexual activity occurred, then the activity is technically illegal. A person under the influence of alcohol is considered unable to consent. It is definitely not a defense to argue that the victim was drunk.

Potential Defenses in Civil Claims

Again, a civil lawsuit is begun by the victim, who is called the “plaintiff” in civil court. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the elements of the tort of assault, battery, false imprisonment and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress (or other tort cause of action).

The standard of proof is different; in a civil lawsuit the standard is that it is more likely than not that the assault happened as claimed by the plaintiff. This is considered to be a lighter burden than the burden the prosecutor has in a criminal case. So, in other words, it might be easier for a victim in a civil lawsuit to succeed with their civil case.

Potential defenses are mostly the same as for a criminal case.

  • Suppression of Evidence: There is a clear right to suppress certain kinds of evidence, mostly that illegally obtained by the police, in a criminal trial. The issue is much more complex in civil trials and the law on the topic varies from state to state. It might be possible to suppress some types of evidence, and it might not.
  • Actual Innocence: A person who did not commit an assault can certainly assert that they did not do it;
  • Consent: Usually sexual assaults happen in private. But if a person charged with assault can prove that the alleged victim consented to the activity, then this can constitute a successful defense;
  • Attack the Evidence of the Plaintiff: Again, as noted above, the defense can attack the evidence of the plaintiff by leading a jury to question how reliable and accurate it is. For example, it is always possible for the defense to attack the credibility, or believability or trustworthiness, of the testimony of a witness for the plaintiff. This is true in criminal cases as well.

What Does a Sexual Assault Defense Lawyer Do?

A sexual assault defense attorney is a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in defending people accused of sexual assault. As soon as the police make contact with a person regarding a possible accusation of sexual assault, the person should consult an experienced sexual assault lawyer for guidance.

The lawyer can advise an alleged perpetrator how to deal with the police and can represent them at pre-trial hearings, in plea negotiations, at trial and at sentencing if the case gets that far.The lawyer can analyze the evidence of the prosecution and develop additional evidence of defenses, if they are available.

Do I Need a Sexual Assault Defense Lawyer?

A person who expects to be charged with criminal sexual assault most definitely wants to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Sexual assault is potentially a serious crime in every state. If a person is convicted, they may face from a few months to many years in prison, depending on the severity of the charge. In addition, a person with a sexual assault conviction can end up in a state or federal database as a registered sex offender. The registered status can last for years, and possibly for a lifetime.

You definitely can expect the best result if you have an experienced sexual assault lawyer on your side fighting for you.

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