The Stigmatization of Rape Allegations in California

by | Apr 17, 2016 | Sex Crimes

Rape and other acts of sexual assault carry a significant societal stigma against both the victims and aggressors. Many individuals who are raped do not come forward to notify the authorities, whether it be out of fear of retribution, need for financial support, or for the benefit of keeping a family together.

On the other side of the coin, some people make baseless allegations regarding rape that have the potential to damage a person’s reputation, criminal record, employment, and professional opportunities, even if later proved untrue. If you are facing criminal charges regarding sexual assault or rape charges in California, it is important to consult with knowledgeable criminal counsel right away in order to ensure your legal rights are protected from arrest and interrogation all the way through trial.

California Rape Crimes

There are several sections of the California Penal Code that govern sexual assault and rape crimes in California, namely those contained in Penal Code Sections 261-269. Some of the primary sections include:

  • 261(a) defines rape as: “[A]n act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator” when the person is incapable of giving consent, fails to do so, is unconscious, or is incapacitated in another manner as described in the statute
  • California, uniquely, identifies rape of a non-spouse under a separate section of the code from rape of a spouse; though the possible punishments are the same, the elements that must be met for the prosecution to meet their burden of proving consent differ
  • Unless there are aggravating circumstances, under 264(a), rape is generally punishable by a prison sentence of either three, six, or eight years.
  • Under the same provision, fines may also be assessed
  • Under 264(c)(3), punishments are increased for those charges against a minor who is fourteen years of age or less, to seven, nine, or eleven-year possible prison sentences
  • 264.1 provides the definitions and punishments when accomplices are implicated in a rape crime.
  • 290-294 outlines the requirements of the Sex Offender Registration Act

The definition of rape is widely misconstrued by the public and media. Rape can be committed against anyone, male or female, and no prior relationship need exist for rape to occur. Though California, controversially, differentiates between rape between spouses and non-spouses, the possible sentences remain the same. Additionally, most people are actually raped by someone they know (especially by current or previous romantic partners), even someone they may know well. This is one reason why rape crimes are particularly difficult to prosecute, but also to defend. Pre-existing relationships between the involved parties can complicate an investigation in the following ways:

  • A spouse or romantic partner may make false allegations out of spite to gain leverage in a child custody battle or divorce proceedings
  • For previous partners, consent may have been given at one point, or even during the particular sexual encounter at issue, but then later withdrawn
  • Most rape cases turn on “my word against yours.” Society is inclined to believe the victims, typically women, who are believed to be in a more vulnerable state than their male counterparts, and this societal norm can be difficult to overcome
  • People with a romantic history may be emotional and make false or unfounded accusations in an attempt to gain leverage in the relationship; however, many alleged victims do not understand the magnitude of what rape allegations may do to their partner’s future, nor do they understand that one cannot simply decide to “drop” the charges once the police get involved.

“Consent” is really what most rape prosecutions turn on. It is up to the prosecution to prove that the victim did not consent to the sexual intercourse, while the defendant may use the contention that the victim did consent as an affirmative defense. In all criminal prosecutions, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that each element of a crime is satisfied “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and that the offender on trial is the person who committed the crime. “Elements” are essentially the things that the prosecutor must prove to a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the defendant to be convicted. Depending on the type of case and the ages and relationship of the parties, the following are some of the elements that the prosecutor may need to prove:

  • That the defendant had sexual intercourse with a victim (defined as penetration or the penis or vagina, even if slight)
  • The man/woman were married/unmarried (this will dictate which criminal statute the crime is being charged under)
  • The victim did not consent to the sexual intercourse
  • The perpetrator made threats or placed the victim under duress
  • The victim was a certain age, while the offender was another certain age

If the prosecutor cannot prove the relevant elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant cannot be convicted. This means that the defendant does not need to prove that the victim consented, but rather, the burden falls on the state to prove that the victim did not consent.

A victim can change their mind regarding consent during a sexual encounter, even if the victim is the one who initiated the sexual act. Thus, the victim must have clearly indicated his or her lack of consent verbally or in a manner that a reasonable person would understand the victim as withdrawing or denying his or her consent, and the prosecutor must prove this as well as the fact that the perpetrator nonetheless engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim.

Additional Charges

Many rape charges are accompanied by additional charges relating to the alleged sexual encounter. These crimes commonly include:

  • Burglary
  • Battery or Domestic Battery
  • Assault
  • Solicitation of prostitution
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual assault (generally includes unwanted sexual contact, while rape requires intercourse)

There are also specific sections of the California code pertaining to sexual actions between adults and minors. Pursuant to 161.5(b), if the minor victim is not more than three years older or three years younger than the offender, the offender may be guilty of a misdemeanor. If the age difference is more significant, or the perpetrator is over the age of 21 while the victim is under the age of 16, the offender may face a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

Additional Consequences and Legal Rights

Far beyond the possibility of a significant jail sentence and associated fines is the need for those convicted of rape to register as sex offenders. Even when a convicted rapist is released, he or she will not just face the stigma of a rape charge and a criminal history, but have limitations placed on his or her housing, educational, and professional opportunities by being listed as a registered sex offender.

The California Sex Offender registry is public information available to potential employers, potential landlords, neighbors, friends, and family. A person deemed a sex offender needs to register at least annually with the registry and update their contact information. This is embarrassing, time consuming, and threatens your privacy and personal dignity; there are also severe consequences for failing to register or failing to update your information annually or when you make changes to your whereabouts.

The severity of being on a sex offender registry is one of the main reasons it is so important to understand your legal rights and consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney before you are facing accusations you cannot get out of. If you have not been arrested, you do not have an obligation to talk to the police. Many people talk to police when they do not have to because they are falsely misled into believing that what they are saying cannot be used against them, they do not know that they do not need to talk to the police, or they think they will look suspicious if they do not speak to the police, even if they did nothing wrong.

These common misconceptions about interrogation lead to hundreds of confessions being elicited under more than questionable tactics and circumstances. If you are being questioned by the police after an arrest, you have the right to have an attorney present. This attorney will ensure that all of the procedural and investigative rules are being followed and that

Los Angeles California Criminal Defense Lawyer

The best defense attorneys have seen the criminal justice systems from both sides. Experienced Los Angeles rape crimes defense attorney, Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, formerly worked as a prosecutor and knows better than anyone the details that prosecutors are interested in when looking to convict a defendant.

He worked specifically in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit and has seen numerous sex crimes from both sides of the courtroom. He has experience navigating various types of sexual assault and rape charges and knows how to negotiate with prosecutors for a dismissal or lessening of charges and sentences.

If you are being investigated or charged with sex crimes in the greater Los Angeles area, make sure your legal rights are protected from start to finish by calling Ambrosio E. Rodriguez for a complimentary consultation.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.