Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
How to Beat a Sexual Assault Charge
There are numerous things that a defendant can do to beat a sexual assault charge. It is important not to speak with the police or to other people involved in the case without having a lawyer present. Once charges have been filed, there are several legal defenses that may be available.
There are numerous things that defendants or suspects can do to help beat a sexual assault charge. Some can be done before the charges are even filed, like:
Doing these 3 things from the very beginning is important. Even suspects who have not been formally charged with sexual assault stand to benefit from doing them. Each tactic forces law enforcement to gather its own evidence. By protecting his or her rights and not helping in the investigation, suspects can lay the groundwork for beating a sexual assault charge, should one get filed.
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is likely the best way to beat a sexual assault charge. This applies both to defendants who have been charged, already, and to suspects who think they are about to be charged.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a defense attorney from a reputable law firm, defendants can tap into the experience of someone who has been through the process, before. Defense lawyers have provided legal advice to people in similar predicaments. They understand how police will likely move forward to build their case. Their legal counsel can help defendants and suspects avoid pitfalls that will hurt them, in the long run, and ensure the best possible outcome for the criminal case.
It is a dangerous myth that getting legal representation is a sign of guilt. This is not the case, at all. Instead, hiring a lawyer shows that someone is both realistic and serious about their future. Truly innocent people get convicted for crimes, all the time. Even being charged with a crime has lasting consequences. By hiring a lawyer, suspects protect against those unfortunate outcomes.
Sexual assault suspects should not talk to police, unless they have their lawyer present.
Some suspects think that they can clear their name by cooperating completely with a police investigation. In many cases, they end up giving law enforcement valuable evidence that incriminates them. This makes it less likely that they will be able to beat a sexual assault charge, once it is filed.
By not talking to police, suspects force police to build their own case. It also eliminates the possibility that the suspect will say something that inadvertently or coincidentally incriminates them.
Sexual assault suspects should not talk with others who were involved in the incident. This includes the alleged victim and any witnesses.
There is very little to be gained by discussing the incident with anyone. Worse, there is a significant risk of saying something that is incriminating. Chances are high that police will interview everyone involved. A poorly-phrased comment can quickly become evidence against the defendant.
Additionally, intimidating or tampering with a victim or witness is a crime. In California, Penal Code 136.1 PC forbids dissuading a witness. Even attempting to dissuade a witness or victim from testifying or providing evidence is a crime.
If sexual assault charges have already been filed, there are still several legal defenses that can be raised. These can undermine the prosecutor’s case, or present evidence of actual innocence. The most common defenses are:
A criminal defense attorney with experience in defending sex crimes will know which defense strategy is right for your case.
Most sex crimes, including sexual assault or sexual battery, criminalize nonconsensual sex. Therefore, if the intercourse was consensual, the defendant would not be liable for a crime.
Proving that the sex was consensual, though, can be risky. If charges were filed, then the alleged victim is very likely to testify that it was nonconsensual. This creates a “he said, she said” situation. Defendants rarely have direct proof of consent, like a text message or voice recording. Using the alleged victim’s past sexual activity as indirect evidence, however, can make the defendant look bad to the jury.
Additionally, in some sex offenses, consent is not a defense. Statutory rape is one example. In these cases, the alleged victim was legally incapable of providing consent. Anything that they said or did to consent to the act, or even to initiate it, is not a defense.
It is up to the prosecutor to prove a case of sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt. If they lack evidence to reach this high standard of proof, there should not be a guilty verdict.
For example, in California, prosecutors have to show the following elements to secure a misdemeanor conviction for sexual battery:
Each element of the criminal offense has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court.
In some cases, defendants accused of sexual assault can beat the charge with evidence of their actual innocence. This can take the form of:
Many sex crime charges, including sexual assault or battery, are based on false accusations. The alleged victim can make false allegations for a variety of reasons, including:
Showing that the allegations are false or that the alleged victim has an ulterior motive can help win a sexual assault case.
State law will set out the penalties for a conviction for sexual assault. Each state’s criminal law is different.
In California, for example, criminal charges of sexual assault can be a misdemeanor or a felony. Generally, it is a misdemeanor that carries up to:
However, if there are any aggravating factors, it becomes a wobbler. Prosecutors have the discretion to pursue wobblers as either misdemeanor or felony charges. If pursued as a felony, charges of aggravated sexual assault carry:
The prison sentence can increase by 3 to 5 years if the alleged victim suffers a great bodily injury.4
The blemish on the defendant’s criminal record and lifetime sex offender registration can also lead to lasting repercussions.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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