Frequently Asked Questions about Sex Offenses
Q: How are sex offenses punished?
A: Punishment for a sex offense can vary dramatically depending on the category of crime. A misdemeanor sex crime conviction (such as indecent exposure) may receive less than a year of jail time, a fine, community service, counseling or probation. A felony, on the other hand, may be punished by a lengthy prison term (up to a life sentence). Additionally, released sex felons must register as sex offenders and multiple convictions often lead to greater punishments.
Q: Is consent a defense to sex crimes?
A: Consent may be a defense to sex crimes, in some cases. However, some individuals are not considered able to consent to sex under the law. For those individuals, even if they explicitly agree, their agreement is not legally valid. For example, minors, the mentally disabled and unconscious or intoxicated people (even if they willingly became intoxicated) typically cannot provide valid consent. Statutory rape or date rape charges may result.
Q: What is entrapment?
A: Police may uncover sex offenders by posing as prostitutes, underage individuals or other parties to catch sex offenders while committing (or preparing to commit) sex crimes. Some sex-offense defendants argue that police actions, such as offers of sexual services, constitute entrapment. Entrapment means that the police induced the defendant to commit a crime he or she did not intend to commit before it was suggested by the police. However, entrapment is not a valid defense if the defendant intended to commit the crime and the police simply provided a means to do so. In prostitution cases, the offer of sexual services by a police officer is almost never held to be entrapment because the defendant is generally found to have been intending to purchase sexual services prior to interacting with the decoy officer. The elements of an entrapment defense are complicated and sensitive to the facts of your situation. Contact an attorney immediately if you believe you were entrapped.
Q: Is it statutory rape if someone lies about his or her age?
A: A mistake about age is not typically a defense to statutory rape charges, even if the underage person lied and gave consent. It is a “strict liability” offense, which makes the perpetrator responsible regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
Q: What is the difference between rape and sexual assault?
A: Many state laws no longer use the term “rape,” replacing it with sexual abuse or sexual assault to describe prohibited sexual acts. Traditional rape is covered by these statutes and may be designated sexual abuse in the first degree. However, most sexual assault statutes cover more types of sexual acts than what is traditionally thought of as “rape” and apply to victims of either gender.
Q: What is probable cause?
A: “Probable cause” is a term that refers to the belief that a person has committed a crime by legal standards. A finding of probable cause can lead to an arrest or conviction. There is not a bright-line rule establishing precisely what constitutes probable cause. However, a finding of probable cause requires objective facts indicating a likelihood of criminal activity. A hunch or an unfounded complaint alone does not satisfy the requirement.
Q: Who must register as a sex offender?
A: Generally, any adult or juvenile who has been convicted of a certain sex offense, who is on active supervision for a sex offense or who has been committed as a sexually violent predator must register with the state law enforcement agency as a sex offender. The duration of the offender’s duty to register varies, based on the original offense and the risk of re-offense. In some states, sexual predators or sexually violent offenders must register for life.
Q: Will the community always be notified of the presence of a sex offender?
A: States have different laws on community notification of a sex offender’s presence. Typically, the public may browse the state registry on the Internet or at law enforcement offices. In some jurisdictions, notification may be more active and police may contact individuals and businesses in a neighborhood to alert them.
Q: What are the defenses to a sex offense?
A: Generally, the defenses to a sex offense include insufficient or tainted evidence, factual innocence, mistaken identity and, in some cases, consent.
Q: If I am charged with committing a sex offense, do I need to hire an attorney?
A: Anyone facing sex offense charges should hire a lawyer. You have the right to an attorney’s assistance. An attorney may help you protect your rights and may be able to avoid or lessen charges by negotiating with the prosecution. A sex offense conviction may result in incarceration, fines, loss of job or family and registration requirements. A lawyer is able to analyze all available options to put you in a position to defend yourself and try to avoid these ramifications.
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