Federal Sexual Assault and Battery Laws, Penalties, and Defenses
Sexual assault usually means any crime where someone has subjected a victim to sexual contact or touching deemed offensive and unwanted. Sexual assault crimes are broad and range from groping, touching to assault and battery and the serious crime of rape.
All states and the federal government criminalize sexual assault, but the exact definitions of sexual assault typically vary by the state. As noted, generally, it's the act of touching another individual in an unwanted manner without their consent.
It's a serious offense that can carry severe penalties at the state and federal levels. Further, while most sexual assault cases are prosecuted at the state level, some cases are filed as federal sex crimes.
Sexual assault and battery are both terms for state and federal crimes, but their definitions differ. Generally, sexual assault refers to any nonconsensual sexual act prohibited by state or federal law, including acts when the victim is unable to consent.
It's pretty standard for sexual assault charges to be connected to using date rape drugs, other drugs, and alcohol. This makes it difficult for the person to consent to sexual activity legally.
Sexual battery is defined as sexual conduct that does not involve penetration or sodomy but does involve physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person's consent. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review the laws more closely below.
Elements of Federal Sexual Assault
Federal sexual assault and rape are coined “sexual abuse” and covered under 10 U.S. Code 920, Art. 120.
For the government to show that a defendant has committed federal sexual assault, they must prove the act took place in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a federal prison, or any prison, institution, or facility where individuals are held in custody by a federal department or agency knowingly:
- Caused someone to engage in a sexual act by threat or placing them in fear of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping, or
- Engaged in, or attempted to engage in, a sexual act with someone Incapable of evaluating the nature of the conduct or physically incapable of saying no or communicating their unwillingness to engage in the sexual act;
- Engages in, or attempts to engage in, a sexual act with someone over the age of 12, but under the age of 16, and is at least four years younger than the defendant;
- Engages in, or attempts to engage in, a sexual act with a person in official detention and within their custody.
This statute, 18 U.S.C. 2242, also describes sexual assault as committing a sexual act upon someone when they know or should know that the other person is asleep or unconscious.
Federal law also says sexual assault occurs when someone commits a sex act on someone when the person cannot consent due to drug or alcohol impairment or any mental disease or defect.
The primary element of a sexual assault charge is the issue of consent. If somebody does not give it or is legally unable to consent to engage in sexual contact, then it's considered sexual assault. Under federal law, the age of consent is 16 years old, while generally around 18 under state laws.
Elements of Federal Sexual Battery
Even though the crime is colloquially referred to as “sexual battery,” the federal crime is actually “aggravated sexual abuse” defined under 18 U.S.C. 2241.
To prove aggravated sexual abuse, the prosecution must show the following that the act occurred in the special maritime and jurisdiction of the United States, a federal prison, or facility where people are held in custody by a federal agency, and:
- The defendant knowingly caused another person 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, or be kidnapped, or attempt to do so;
- The defendant renders the victim unconscious and engages in a sexual act with them, or gives them a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance by force or threat of force, and
- Substantially impairs their ability to control their actions and engages in, or attempts to engage in, a sexual act;
- The defendant crossed a state line with intent to perform a sexual act with an individual under the age of 12, or
- Under 16 years old if the defendant is more than four years older than the victim.
The government does not need to prove that the defendant knew that the other person was not yet over 12 years old.
Related Federal Statutes
Several related federal statutes are listed under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 109A – sexual abuse, including:
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,
18 U.S.C. § 2261A - stalking.
Penalties For Federal Sexual Assault and Battery
The United States federal sentencing guidelines lay out the minimum and maximum punishments for a conviction under federal law.
The federal sentencing guidelines consider the conduct associated with the offense, and there are 43 offense levels.
Next is the defendant's criminal history, for which there are six history categories.
The defendant is assigned several points based on their number of prior offenses and criminal history category from 1-6.
If the defendant accepts responsibility for their actions, there can be a two or three-level decrease in the criminal history category.
The penalties for federal sexual assault or federal sexual battery will differ depending on the nature of the incident and the alleged victim's age.
- Aggravated sexual assault: “sexual battery” can be punished with up to a ten-year sentence, a fine, or both;
- Sexual abuse: “sexual assault” can be punished with up to a three-year sentence, a fine, or both;
- Sexual abuse of a minor ward carries can warrant imprisonment 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 of a child incurs a 30 year or life sentence.
Sex Offender Registration
Additionally, the convicted defendant will be required to register on a national and state-specific sex offender registry. All states have a sex offender and registration program
The information provided on these websites is public and includes the defendant's name, address, and case report. Most sex offenders must undergo treatment in jail or prison or as a condition of their probation.
Defenses to Federal Sexual Assault and Battery Charges
There are numerous potential legal defenses against sexual assault or battery charges at the federal level. 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 were not physically capable of indicating that they were unwilling to participate in the acts.
Thus, there are some defenses to sexual assault and battery charges that can challenge the definitions or elements of the crime.
For instance, in a sexual assault defense where the victim was under the age of 16, the defendant may argue that they reasonably believed the individual was over 16 when the sexual activity took place. They must prove this with a preponderance of the evidence.
Alternatively, defendants accused of a sexual battery may choose to try to prove that the sexual activity was consensual, argue that they have a mental health condition and could not control their behavior, or prove that this is a case of mistaken identity.
The most common defense for sexual assault is to admit the act occurred but argue that the victim gave consent.
Recall that a prosecutor must prove the sex act occurred without the victim's consent and against their will. Thus, if the defendant can show that the victim gave permission, it is usually a total defense against a charge of sexual assault.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County and serves people in California and throughout the United States against federal offenses. You can reach us for an initial consultation at 877-781-1570, or fill out our contact form