Although sex crimes cases may seem relatively straightforward, there are a variety of statutes that differentiate between the different elements of sexually based offenses such “reasonable fear” and “conspiracy to commit sex abuse.” Below a DC sex crimes lawyer differentiates between some of the various legal terms associated with sex abuse crimes and when they can come up in certain case.
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The statute makes the differentiation between what constitutes an act versus contact. A body of decision-makers has decided that this type of conduct is considered a sexual act or that another type of conduct is considered a sexual contact. But there is a rationale behind these distinctions, because what constitutes a sexual act under the statute would generally be seen as something more serious, involving contact between sexual organs, contact between the mouth and sexual organs, or contact involving penetration. Those would generally be seen as more serious than, for example, touching someone’s rear end if they’re wearing jeans as they’re walking by and you slap them on the butt. That would be less serious in the general person’s mind about what kind of conduct it is.
It is an artificial distinction, but frankly it is one that makes sense. The definition of an act versus contact is very important, because the government has to prove that a sexual act occurred if they’re charging a first or a third degree sexual abuse. That is an area where the defense can challenge the evidence, because if the government can actually establish that a very specific type of contact occurred—meaning penetration or direct contact between the mouth, anus, vulva, or penis—then they can support that higher-level charge. That comes up as a critical issue in certain cases.
Reasonableness is interpreted as what would an average ordinary person perceive, feel, or do. It is supposed to be an objective standard, but it is in fact subjective in the sense that the trier of fact has to look at whether or not the circumstances warranted a belief of impending harm.
While it’s supposed to be an objective standard, clearly it’s subjective because you’ve got decision makers—meaning the jury or the judge—deciding whether or not the person’s claim of being in reasonable fear was actually warranted and justified under the circumstances.
You can be charged with attempted sex abuse if you’re not able to actually complete the act, but the government can show that you tried to do so. This would be attempted first or second degree sexual abuse when the government can show that an individual is trying to forcefully have sex with someone, but is simply unable to complete the act for whatever reason. Attempted sexual abuse will be a lower charge, if convicted, than the actual completed act.
An attempt in these situations is a lesser type of felony according to the sentencing guidelines, and so the punishment will be lower.
Conspiracy, on the other hand, is typically charged at the same level as the act itself. Conspiracy to commit sexual abuse is extremely rare; it would entail an agreement by two or more people to carry out a sexual abuse upon one or more other people. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen, but in my experience it is a rarity to see conspiracy to commit sexual abuse. However, if the government were able to prove that, then an individual could be charged and face the full range of penalties involved with the completed act.
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