Understanding California Sexual Assault Laws
Reports of sexual assault are not uncommon in California. More than 31,000 sexual assault victims were treated by California’s rape crisis centers between 2011 and 2012. There are an estimated 2 million living rape victims in the state, and another 8.6 million who have been the victim of some kind of sexual violence. Women account for the majority of sexual violence victims, but men do account for approximately one-third of California sexual assault victims. Sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, so these sexual assault statistics may not accurately reflect the true number of sexual assault and rape victims living in California.
Sexual assault is a serious crime in California, and state prosecutors do not take allegations of sexual violence lightly. If you have been accused, arrested, and/or charged with a crime of sexual assault in California you should not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
California Sexual Assault Laws
California has a few sexual violence laws on the books. Each one targets a slightly different behavior but have a few things in common. Broadly defined, California sexual assault laws make it a crime to: engage in intimate sexual conduct with another person who is either unwilling to participate or unable to consent. The most commonly charged sexual assault offenses charged in California include Sexual Battery, Rape, and Forcible Penetration With a Foreign Object.
Sexual Battery [California 234.4(a) PC]
Sexual battery occurs when a person:
- engages in the unwanted touching of a victim’s intimate parts;
- while the victim was restrained;
- for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.
What are intimate parts? Intimate parts are defined by the California code as “sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, or the breast of a female.” The contact with these intimate parts can be direct skin-on-skin or indirect through the victim’s clothing.
Sexual battery can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the offense. A misdemeanor sexual battery can be punished by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. A felony sexual battery can be punished by 1-4 years in California state prison and by fines of up to $10,000. If you are convicted of sexual assault or battery you may also be required to register as a sex offender in the state of California.
Rape [California 261 PC]
Rape occurs when a person:
- engages in sexual intercourse with another person;
- who is unwilling or unable to consent;
- through the use of physical force, violence, duress, threat, or fraud.
Rape is a serious felony that is a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law. punishable by 3, 6, or 8 years in prison. If a victim is under the age of 18, the sentence may increase to 7, 9, or 11 years in prison. If a victim is under the age of 14, the sentence may increase to 9, 11, or 13 years in prison. Penalties for a person convicted of rape in California also include registration as a sex offender with the state of California and orders to pay monetary fines and restitution.
Forcible Penetration with a Foreign Object [California 289(a)(1) PC]
Forcible penetration with a foreign object occurs when a person:
- penetrates or causes a victim’s genitals or anus to be penetrated;
- with a foreign object;
- for the purpose of sexual gratification or sexual abuse; and
- by force, violence, duress, menace, fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury, or threat to retaliate.
Forcible penetration with a foreign object is a crime that is very similar to rape. One of the main differences is that the object used to penetrate a victim’s intimate parts does not need to be a body part, although it can be a body part. You may remember that Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, made national headlines after he forced his finger into the genitals of an unconscious female college student in 2015. Since Turner did not physically have intercourse with the victim he was not charged with the crime of rape. However, he was charged and convicted of this crime that is strikingly close to the crime of rape.
Forcible penetration is a violent felony that is punishable by up to 8 years in prison. Those convicted may be required to register as a sex offender with the state of California, be subject to restraining orders, and be ordered to pay fines and restitution. Forcible penetration is a strike under California’s three strike laws.
Understanding Consent in California Sexual Assault Cases
A conviction under one of California’s sexual assault laws requires that the victim was unwilling or unable to consent to the sexual activity. How can a person who is accused of an act of sexual assault know when the alleged victim consented? Generally, the victim must be able to consent and aware of the nature of the act. However, the definition of consent – and/or whether consent was possible – will vary with each case. However, courts may consider whether the victim falls into any of the following categories when determining if consent was possible. Was the victim:
- heavily intoxicated?
- suffering from a mental disorder?
- suffering from a physical disability?
- forced to engage in sexual activity through force, violence, or duress?
Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Crimes of Sexual Assault
Crimes of sexual assault in California are traditionally punished severely. However, a California court judge made headlines when he handed Brock Turner an extremely lenient sentence. As a result, California legislature took action and amended the law to expand the sexual assault crimes that must be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. This means that unless one of a very few exceptions is met, a person convicted of a crime of sexual assault in California after January 1, 2017 must serve time in jail or prison for their act(s).
Statute of Limitations for Crimes of Sexual Assault
For offenses committed on or after January 1, 2017, there is no statute of limitations for prosecuting most crimes of sexual assault in California. Under a new law which was signed in 2016, “the prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, that are committed under certain circumstances, as specified, to be commenced at any time.”
Crimes of sexual assault that were committed prior to January 1, 2017 must be prosecuted within 10 years of the date of the offense. If, however, new DNA evidence emerges, the statute of limitations does not prohibit later prosecution.
Defenses to Accusations of Sexual Assault
Not all accusations of criminal sexual assault are legitimate. If you have been accused, arrested, and/or charged with sexual assault you should not hesitate to contact an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you launch a defense for the purpose of (1) having the charges against you dropped or (2) having the charges against you reduced to a less serious offense. Potential defenses to accusations of sexual assault in California include:
- False accusation;
- The alleged victim consented to the act(s);
- Insufficient evidence to support a case; and
- Mistaken identity or witness.
Have you been accused of sexual assault in California? If so, you should not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can protect your legal rights and ensure that you are given the opportunity to fully defend yourself. Contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Ambrosio E. Rodriguez for a free consultation today.