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Sexual Abuse Death

18 U.S. Code § 2245 - Sexual Abuse Resulting in Death

Every state has laws criminalizing various forms of sexual abuse. But when these offenses occur in U.S. territories (not in a particular state) or prisons under federal jurisdiction, these offenses are federal crimes.

And when death occurs due to sexual abuse, the federal government imposes severe penalties. For example, under Title 18 U.S. Code 2245, if you're convicted of murdering someone or causing their death in the context of federal sexual abuse or other federal sex crimes, you could face up to life in prison—or possibly even the death penalty.

Sexual Abuse Resulting in Death - 18 U.S. Code § 2245

Sexual assault is any crime where somebody subjected a victim to sexual contact or touching deemed offensive and unwanted. They can range from groping, touching, assault, battery, and the serious crime of rape.

Sexual assault and battery are both state and federal law terms but have different definitions.  Sexual abuse is defined as sexual conduct that does not involve penetration or sodomy but involves physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person's consent.

18 U.S.C. 2242 says sexual abuse occurs when someone “causes another person to engage in a sexual act by threatening or placing that other person in fear, other than being subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping, or (2) engages in a sexual act someone incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct; or (B) physically incapable of declining, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, that sexual act; or (3) without that other person's consent, to include doing so through coercion…..”

Another related federal offense, aggravated sexual abuse, is defined under 18 U.S.C. 2241. Let's review this federal law further below.

18 U.S.C. 2245 Explained

18 U.S.C. 2245 is contained within Chapter 109A of Title 18, which primarily seeks to protect people in federal custody and under federal jurisdiction from acts of sexual abuse. People who would not necessarily be protected under state law—and to punish those who would commit these acts.

Section 2245 gives the U.S. government the right to impose more severe penalties on these actions if death occurs. 18 U.S.C. 2245 is one of only a few federal crimes where the death penalty is possible.

18 U.S.C. 2245 says, “A person who, in the course of an offense under this chapter, or section 1591, 2251, 2251A, 2260, 2421, 2422, 2423, or 2425, murders an individual, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Based on the sections of the law listed in the text, 18 U.S.C. 2245 applies in the following situations of sexual abuse where death may occur:

  • Sexual abuse, both sexual acts and sexual contact, occurring in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, such as in non-state territories, territorial waters, and on the high seas aboard U.S. ships;
  • Sexual abuse occurring in federal prisons, private prisons under federal contract, and other situations of federal custody;
  • Human trafficking;
  • Child pornography, sexual exploitation of children, and child sex trafficking.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Tim, a federal prison guard, pressures an inmate to engage in sex with him under threat of harm (federal sexual abuse).

Penalties for Federal Sexual Abuse Charges

In the process, Tim strangles the inmate to death. In addition to other federal charges, Tim can be charged with sexual abuse resulting in death.

EXAMPLE 2: Joe is a trafficker who forces teenage girls to work as prostitutes in U.S. territories, using threats of violence and other coercive tactics. He forces the girls to take drugs to keep them sedated. As a result, one of the girls dies from an overdose. Joe can be charged under 18 U.S.C 2245.

EXAMPLE 3: Sam is a federal inmate who routinely forces other inmates to engage in sexual contact with him under threat of hurting them.

One morning, one of his victims is found dead in his cell. The cause of death is ruled to be congestive heart failure. While Sam is guilty of other federal crimes, he likely won't be charged under 18 U.S.C. 2245 because the victim's cause of death was not directly related to the sexual abuse.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

Several related federal statutes are listed under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 109A – 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. 2246 – definitions for the chapter,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2247 – repeat offenders,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2248 – mandatory restitution.

What Are the Penalties?

Penalties for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2245 are among the most severe imposed by the United States. At best, the judge has the latitude to impose a prison sentence of any length, up to life in prison. At worst, you could be sentenced to death if convicted.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 2245?

18 U.S.C. 2245 effectively functions as a sentencing enhancement, meaning those charged under this law are likely also accused of other crimes related to sexual abuse, human trafficking, etc.

Defenses for Federal Sexual Abuse

Thus, most defenses for this charge by a federal criminal lawyer, if not all, are primarily intended to minimize prison time and keep the judge from imposing a life imprisonment or death sentence. These defenses are discussed below. 

Perhaps we can argue that the death was not caused by or related to the abuse. We may attempt to show that although you may have engaged in abuse, the victim did not die directly from your actions.

Perhaps we can argue that the death was accidental. While this defense may be difficult to prove in the context of abuse, the fact that 18 U.S.C. 2245 uses the word "murder" to describe the death stemming from abuse suggests willful intent to kill.

If we can show you had no such deliberate intent, you may be able to avoid a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2245, although you may still be convicted of other charges.

Perhaps we can argue that you were acting in self-defense. For example, maybe your alleged victim of abuse rose against you to retaliate, and you reacted in fear for your safety. While this defense wouldn't exonerate you from other charges, it might help prevent conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2245.

You can contact our law firm for a case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. We provide legal representation across the United States on federal criminal issues. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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